Religion has emerged as a force which cannot be ignored in understanding the world and humanity’s place within it. Whether one’s perspective is that of a social observer, considering what shapes the behavior of people around us, or that of a participant, committed to a particular faith, the growing influence of systems of religious belief has become increasingly apparent since the end of the Cold War.
With this growth of religions there has come an historic challenge. Practitioners need to understand one another; observers need to be able to assess beliefs and practices they personally do not share. Those are the imperatives of living in a pluralistic environment. Religious systems (and many atheist surrogates for religious systems) claim to account for the world, to shape human emotions, and to guide our actions. What happens when many such systems occupy the same land, the same society? The United States has been on the forefront of creating pluralism; how it should be practiced is another matter.
The Institute of Advanced Theology is designed to create the kind of genuine, critical understanding that will make real pluralism possible. We are not interested in general assertions of the necessity of religious tolerance. Well-meaning and useful though such imperatives are, they do not address the heart of the challenge of religious diversity. What is needed is not mere civility, but mutual understanding.
Bruce Chilton is Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College. He is an expert on the New Testament and early Judaism, and has contributed fifty books and more than a hundred articles to those fields of study. His principal scholarship has been in the understanding of Jesus within Judaism and in the critical study of the Targumim, the Aramaic paraphrases of the Bible. Jesus appears clearly as a rabbinic teacher in Dr. Chilton's analysis, on the basis of his study of the Targum of Isaiah, which he has edited and translated in the first commentary ever written on that book.