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 The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded Aquinas Institute of Theology in St. Louis a grant to appoint a three-year visiting professor in interreligious theology. The professor will teach courses on world religions, assist colleagues in incorporating aspects of other religions into their instruction and organize an annual event to raise awareness of the importance of dialogue and understanding among religions.

The graduate school of theology will conduct a national search to fill the position. The professor is expected to be a Roman Catholic who has earned a Ph.D. in Catholic theology and possesses expertise in the histories, beliefs, traditions and contributions of the world’s major religions.

“Catholic means universal,” said Sr. Carla Mae Streeter, O.P., faculty member at Aquinas Institute and a long-time presence in the metropolitan area’s interfaith conversations. “The ‘universal’ means not only geographic but intellectual, a catholicity that does not fear the truth it learns from others nor hesitate to respectfully voice the truth from its own deepest tradition.”

Greater religious diversity makes the need for this position especially important. While most Christian ministers in the United States are exposed to teachings of Judaism, traditions such as Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism remain unfamiliar. Today, those traditions claim an important presence in St. Louis.

Streeter said the study of world religions will “open a window into the lives of those whose worship differs from our own, the lives of people who are our neighbors.”

In addition to teaching, the visiting professor will serve as a resource to faculty to make every course at Aquinas Institute one that offers glimpses into other traditions. A course on spirituality would include conversation about daily Hindu house prayers, for example. A course in preaching would prepare preachers to address world events related to other religions.

The grant award is $195,000. The visiting professor is expected to begin July 1. The school will evaluate the success of the grant in 2008 and consider making the visiting professor position permanent.

Aquinas Institute of Theology is a Roman Catholic graduate school in Midtown St. Louis. It is sponsored by the Dominican religious order and prepares priesthood candidates for ordination. The candidates study alongside vowed religious women and men and laypeople pursuing careers in the Catholic Church.

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