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Aquinas Institute’s new visiting professor of interreligious theology says he simply wants people to think differently.

He doesn’t want Hindus to become Christians or Christians Hindus. He’s not even seeking common ground. Fr. Scott Steinkerchner, O.P., merely wants to look at other faith traditions and learn from them.

To that end, Steinkerchner, who arrived in July, will work with faculty this year to incorporate other religions into Catholic courses. In a course studying Jesus Christ, for example, he would like to see professors introduce Buddha and Krishna. In a course on Scripture, students also would discuss the Qur’an. In a classroom conversation on ministering to the sick, the class would explore Buddhist thoughts on dealing with pain.

Steinkerchner’s work at Aquinas Institute is possible through a three-year, $195,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. He describes the interreligious teaching position as “cutting edge” in Catholic seminaries today, and predicts interreligious dialogue will be at the center of growth in Catholic theology for the next 50 years.

“Conversation with other religious traditions will make theology better and prepare better ministers,” Steinkerchner said. “The world is smaller. Communication is better. A true religious professional today has to know about other religions.”

The Dominican friar earned his Ph.D. in theology from Boston College in 2005; his dissertation was on interreligious dialogue. He spent the following year in Nepal, studying in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery

That eclectic background is reflected on the bookshelves in Steinkerchner’s office. While Catholic resources claim more shelves than any other tradition, he devotes entire cases to titles that represent Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and traditions such as Scientology.

“I love to find disparate ideas that are great in their own right, and bring them together to see what happens,” he said. “It might affirm what we know as Catholics. It might expand what we know as Catholics. It might even force us to rethink some things. Above all, it will help us think differently.” 

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