Can Religion Be Part of the Solution, Rather Than Part of the Problem?

An Evening with Religious Peacemakers

Press Contact: Nina Jacobson
Office: (212) 678-8950

August 18, 2008, New York, NY

When it comes to conflict, religious leaders engage in a careful balancing act. People of all faiths fill houses of worship to pray for peace, yet violence perpetrated in the name of religion fills the daily headlines. What concrete actions can religious persons take to respond to this dilemma?

In commemoration of 9-11, José Inocencio “Chencho” Alas and Ahzar “Azi” Hussain, two outstanding religious leaders from conflict-ridden parts of the world who are Tanenbaum Peacemakers in Action, will share their profound stories about the contribution faith can make in eschewing violence in "Can Religion Be Part of the Solution, Rather Than Part of the Problem? An Evening with Religious Peacemakers." The public forum will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, September 10 at The Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway (at 122nd Street) in New York City.

The program will be moderated by Dr. Alan Mittleman, director of the Louis Finkelstein Institute for Religious and Social Studies of JTS and chair of its Department of Jewish Thought, and Joyce Dubensky, executive vice president of the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. The program is being sponsored by the Finkelstein Institute, the Tanenbaum Center, and Auburn Theological Seminary.

José “Chencho” Alas, a former Catholic priest, an activist, and native of El Salvador, is the founder and Peace Project director of the Foundation for Self-Sufficiency. Currently working to promote peace and justice throughout Central America, he was first known for his leadership in organizing oppressed peasants and workers in his own country. His proactive approach made him unpopular among certain groups; more than once, he has survived violent attempts to silence his message. Alas’s work has helped his fellow Salvadorans come to see the connection between their indigenous and religious beliefs and the importance of acquiring practical skills, such as sustainable farming and public speaking. He has empowered them to act—even in the face of mortal threats posed by the military, the government, and right-wing death squads—leading to the establishment of a "zone of peace" in the southern region of the country.

Ahzar “Azi” Hussain is a Muslim-Pakistani-American and a leader in working with and engaging the teachers and administrators of Pakistan's madrassas. He serves as the vice president for preventative diplomacy at the International Center for Religion & Diplomacy (ICRD). Hussain has collaborated with the United States Institute of Peace to initiate, develop, and deliver a peace education training program for Pakistani religious leaders. Currently, he leads the Pakistan Madrassa Project at ICRD, which encourages critical thinking and conflict resolution skills in madrassa education, with a special emphasis on religious tolerance and human rights within the madrassa structure.

Admission to this program is free, but reservations and valid photo identification are required. For more information and to register, please contact the JTS Department of Public Events at (212) 280-6093.

Since 1938, The Finkelstein Institute has maintained an innovative interfaith and intergroup relations program that emphasizes conversation among diverse communities. Today, it continues to provide a venue for advancing the dialogue at the intersection of religion and public affairs.

The Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding works to reduce and prevent the ignorance, hatred, and violence perpetrated in the name of religion by supporting religious peacemakers who struggle in areas of armed conflict and overcoming religious intolerance in workplaces, healthcare settings, and schools.

Auburn Seminary educates leaders to meet the challenges of religious and public life. Through its Center for Multifaith Education Auburn educates leaders of diverse communities to address social challenges, promote religious understanding, and instill in the next generation a vision of communal and global responsibility.