The Nostra Ætate Lecture Series

Riggs Library
Georgetown University
April 2, 2008

 It’s a great privilege to welcome Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the sixth speaker—and the first Muslim lecturer—in the series we began in 2006 to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of “Nostra Aetate”—and to celebrate its legacy and its spirit.

As most of you are aware, Nostra Aetate—the landmark Vatican II document—was a truly historic statement on the relations of the Roman Catholic Church with non-Christian faiths.  The document promoted dialogue and discussion…openness and understanding.  And it still provides the foundation on which the Catholic Church—and Catholic institutions such as Georgetown—are building bridges between faiths.

The first line of Nostra Aetate cites an emerging interdependence among people as a rationale for the decree.  It notes that “the human race is being daily brought closer together and contacts between various peoples are becoming more frequent . . . .”

If that was true four decades ago, recognizing this connectivity today is an urgent necessity for the entire the global community.  We live at a time when nations are increasingly interdependent…people more interconnected…and humanity less separated by narrow domestic walls.  In such an interconnected world, we deny, disdain, or ignore others with values, customs, and beliefs that are different than our own at our peril.  And in such a world, understanding others’ experience—their perspective—is imperative.

A crucial dimension of this imperative is interfaith understanding—the very spirit of Nostra Aetate.  By helping us to see what values and ethical commitments we share, interfaith understanding helps us to recognize our common humanity…it helps us to comprehend the universal human condition…and it helps us to realize that what we share is far greater than what separates us.  That is why we must work to build bridges between communities of faith and religious tradition. This common good must be our common goal.

Georgetown recognizes this challenge…and our Catholic and Jesuit heritage compels us to meet it.  We’re proud of our strong track record in addressing interfaith issues and promoting interreligious dialogue.  In 1968, we were the first Catholic university to hire a full time rabbi…and nearly a decade ago, the first American university to hire a full time Muslim Chaplain. Other efforts include our Prince Alwaleed Bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding—a project that has greatly benefited from Dr. Nasr’s involvement—our Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs; our Program for Jewish Civilization; our doctoral program in religious pluralism and theology; and, of course, this distinguished lecture series. Additionally, the Dean of our College, Jane McAuliffe, served as Editor of five volume “Encyclopedia of the Quran.” 

In recent efforts, we joined with The Washington Post –Newsweek Interactive in a collaborative online effort, “On Faith,”— a global conversation on religion.  And a partnership between Georgetown and the World Economic Forum produced a groundbreaking document—the first Annual Report on the State of West-Islamic Dialogue, which was released in January.  I had the privilege of serving as lead author of the Report, and both the Berkley Center and the Prince Alwaleed Center provided academic oversight for the project.  The Report is the very first to examine relations between the West and the Islamic World in a multitude of dimensions–including political, economic and cultural.

We think all of these efforts are very much in the spirit of Nostra Aetate.  But we know that although the world has made a great deal of progress since the document was first released, in a global community too often engulfed in conflict—with interactions between faiths too often characterized by mistrust—we must continue to move forward…to foster dialog and discussion…and to kindle the spirit of Nostra Aetate.

The importance of interfaith understanding is certainly appreciated by today’s distinguished lecturer, Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr.  Much of his intellectual activities and writing have been devoted to religious dialogue. He has participated in many debates and discussions with eminent Christian and Jewish theologians and philosophers such as Hans Kung.  In 1990, he was selected as a patron of the “Center for the Study of Islam and Christian Muslim-Relations of the Sally Oaks College” in Birmingham.  And he has played an active role in the creation and the activities of our Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

Professor Nasr is also one of the world’s leading experts and scholars on Islamic science and spirituality…and on Islamic, Religious and Comparative Studies.  He currently serves as University Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, and is the author of over fifty books and five hundred articles.  Additionally, the Nasr Foundation is dedicated to promoting traditional teachings, and in particular, to advancing the various facets of traditional Islam and other religions.

A native of , Dr. Nasr was the very first Iranian student admitted as an undergraduate at M.I.T.  He later obtained his Master’s in geology and geophysics, and his Ph.D. in the history of science and learning, at Harvard.  After returning to , he eventually served as Dean of Faculty and Academic Vice-Chancellor for Tehran University. He was later appointed President of Aryamehr University—’s leading scientific and technical university, and he helped found the Imperial Iranian Academy of Philosophy.

It is truly a privilege to have Dr. Nasr with us today.  As an esteemed scholar, exceptional educator, and eloquent speaker, I know that he will provide an invaluable perspective on how to deepen interfaith understanding in the global community…on how to build bridges between religions and cultures…and on how to continue the enduring legacy—and spirit— of Nostra Aetata.    It is now my pleasure to introduce Dr. Seyyed Hossein Nasr…