We recently caught up with Padraic O’hare, who is Professor of Religious and Theological Studies at Merrimack College, and one of the eminent advisers for Intertwined Worlds. In this poignant interview, Prof O’hare tells us about a lifetime of work encouraging cross-religious understanding, and how he believes contemplation practice is a powerful catalyst for this crossing of religious divides.
Intertwined Worlds: How did you hear of Intertwined Worlds?
Padraic O’hare: I first heard of Intertwined Worlds when Yousef Meri invited me to participate.
IW: What attracted you to serve as an Intertwined Worlds adviser?
PO: I’ve spent most of my professional life seeking to nurture and cultivate reverence among peoples in different religions, and so the invitation was most welcome. To engage in common enterprise with such distinguished people was also a great draw. (Asma, Mark, Ed and Mohamed are known to me personally as well, and are in every instance persons whom I admire and like).
IW: Can you tell us about your own background as an academic and your particular interests?
PO:I have been writing, publishing, and teaching about interfaith relations, especially between Jews and Christians, for about 35 years; I also write and publish about contemplation practice, and this for me is the principal lever of spiritual companionship across religious boundaries. And then, finally, I write about religious education and insist such practice must transcend denominational initiation and nourishment and always teach – the children, the adults – as well that “There is enough love in God to choose again and again and again” – Rabbi Yitz Greenberg. The highlight of my professional life, to date, was to nurture the Center for the Study of Jewish-Christian- Muslim Relations ,which I founded in 1993, to expand and embrace Islam and Muslim people, something we began accomplishing in 2008.
IW: Why is interfaith work so important in the present context?
PO:The importance of the project is captured in Hans Kungs’ statement “There can be no peace in the world until there is peace among religions.” But beyond this most crucial of pragmatic accounts, there is Ibn Arabi’s “I follow the religion of love. Whatever way Love’s camel takes, that is my religion and my faith.” And Rabbi Heschel commenting on the principal reason to engage one another across religious differences: “…to search in the wilderness [together] for wellsprings of devotion, for treasures of stillness, for the power of love and care….”
IW: What drew you to the field?
PO:I was drawn to the field by being born and raised a New Yorker, a gentile New Yorker, who began, quietly, to be pulled into the Jewish heart. This lay dormant till my transplantation to Boston where I was invited by Elizabeth Corbin, Krister Stendahl, Murray Rothman, Bob Bullock, Michael MC Garry , Phil Perlmutter and others to become engaged explicitly. And this engagement was expanded when I began encountering remarkable Muslim people: Mary Lahaj, Salma Kazmi, Mohammed Khusro, Mohamed Lazzouni and others.
IW: What’s your current project? What’s next?
PO:I am close to completing a third, and final, book on contemplation practice and education: Lions in the Desert: Contemplation and the Young Adult.