The Scriptural Reasoning Network is a new 501(c)(3) that exists to promote the practice of Jews, Christians, and Muslims reading scripture together.
We are promoting this practice now because we believe that an expansive network of interfaith friendships would create a firewall against the religiously motivated prejudice and violence that is happening around the world, in Jerusalem but also in Colorado Springs, in Paris but also in San Bernardino.
Instead of tamping down their religious passions, Scriptural Reasoning participants are encouraged to bring their faith commitments into the conversation and to articulate how they think texts connect to one another and to pressing issues in the world today. Participants frequently testify to the way that Scriptural Reasoning roots them more deeply in their particular faith tradition while at the same time raising their respect for the other traditions at the table. Friendships emerge across differences.
Scriptural Reasoning has been happening for almost twenty years, radiating out from two academic centers: one at the University of Virginia led by Professor Peter Ochs and the other at Cambridge University in England led by Professor David Ford. Over the years, Ochs and Ford have led countless Scriptural Reasoning sessions at their respective universities, at other universities, and at numerous venues outside the academy. Small Scriptural Reasoning groups have sprung up, died down, and sprung up again in cities all over the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and elsewhere around the world.
Enthusiasm for the practice remains strong among the people who have tried Scriptural Reasoning in the past, but it is scattered. There has never been an organized, effective effort to connect previous participants, support existing Scriptural Reasoning groups, and help create new ones. This is what we are trying to do with the Scriptural Reasoning Network.
It's been tried before. About five years ago, a couple dozen religious studies professors, led by Jacob Goodson, began meeting together before the American Academy of Religion conference to share ideas about using Scriptural Reasoning in their scholarly projects and in their classrooms. They formed the Scriptural Reasoning Academic Network. Kevin Seidel and Matthew Vaughan were part of that group.
Around the same time, another contingent of academics, pastors, rabbis, imams, and laypeople, pulled together by Peter Ochs, formed the 1000 Cities Project to promote Scriptural Reasoning outside the academy. Sara Williams, Kevin Seidel, and Michael Bos were part of that group.
These initiatives were a step in the right direction, but their separateness depleted the energy of both and created a needless schism between two groups whose work and thought could greatly serve one another. In 2014, these two networks merged in order to promote Scriptural Reasoning inside and outside the university: the Scriptural Reasoning Network.
We envision the Scriptural Reasoning Network as a bridge of collaboration between people working inside and outside the academy—a way for those outside the academy to hear what those inside are learning through their practice of Scriptural Reasoning and, equally important, a way for those inside the academy to listen to and learn from those out in the community who are also experimenting with Scriptural Reasoning.
In November 2015, just before the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta, we held a day-long workshop called "Scriptural Reasoning on Campus" with about 40 faculty, grad students, and campus ministers. One important takeaway from our time together? No matter where we are on campus, whether we are students, staff, or faculty, each of us carry within ourselves the divide between the university and the community, a divide that all too often keeps what we learn separate from how we live. But when we cross that divide in talking about scripture, whether we do it in the classroom or some other venue on campus, we generate possibilities for overcoming similar divisions in other areas of study in the humanities and social sciences. This is one way that Scriptural Reasoning may inspire positive, new models for civic conversation.
Looking ahead to 2016, we've identified three pilot cities where there is already a convergence of leaders of congregations, universities, and other interfaith organizations who are interested in Scriptural Reasoning—Baltimore, New York, and Atlanta. We plan to help organize two Scriptural Reasoning events in each city next year and then share stories of those events with people in other cities where we have Scriptural Reasoning connections—Berkeley, Boston, Chicago, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, Los Angeles, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. We are also in the process of gathering a more diverse board of directors comprising Jews, Christians, and Muslims who belong to a variety of civic, professional, and academic institutions. As much as possible, we want the Scriptural Reasoning Network to serve and inspire people in the institutions to which they already belong, rather than pulling them away into something else.
And you can help us continue our work. With enough small donations and a few large ones, we'll be able to hire a part-time executive director who can coordinate efforts in the pilot cities, help get the word out about new and existing groups, organize a conference next fall, and help discern next steps for the organization.
Please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to the Scriptural Reasoning Network. Just click a donate button in this post or on the sidebar anywhere on the site.
And if you know others who might be interested in supporting our work, please direct them to the website or forward their contact information to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you so much for your encouragement and for your ongoing engagement with this project.
Chair, Board of Directors