Caroline Hanssen, a member of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unity, asks whether people will continue to identify themselves by religion in the future. [Special to The Providence Journal / Kevin G. Andrade]
By Kevin G. Andrade / Special to The Journal
Posted Apr 15, 2018 at 9:24 PMUpdated Apr 15, 2018 at 9:24 PM
Fear and combating fear of the other was a major theme that Sandra Keating, an associate professor of theology at Providence College and practicing Catholic, elaborated on at St. Augustine Catholic Church.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Soon after Sandra Keating finished speaking to a group of 70 people Sunday about the history of interactions between Christianity and Islam, a young, veiled woman earnestly expressed gratitude about what she’d just heard.
“People see in the media ISIS and think that Islam is like that,” said Zeynep Cetintas, a Muslim immigrant from Istanbul who now lives in Providence. “To see it equated with terrorism, it hurts my heart.
“In the U.S.,” she continued, “when I see how people want to learn about other religions I admire it. You don’t see that in Turkey.”
Indeed, fear and combating fear of the other was a major theme that Keating, an associate professor of theology at Providence College and practicing Catholic, elaborated on at St. Augustine Catholic Church, 20 Old Rd.
“Whenever there’s something new, people get really nervous,” said Keating, adding that Muslims have been present in the U.S. since its inception, though in smaller numbers than today. “Whenever you get a new group, people want to know how that will affect what’s familiar to them.
“We’re constantly coming up against one another in this age of globalization,” she continued, “and what it’s done is brought up old questions that we thought were settled.”
Caroline Hanssen did not hesitate to build on that thought when the floor was opened to questions.
“God created Adam and Eve, and I think Muslims, Christians and Jews can agree on that,” said Hanssen, a member of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification. “If God created us with the very special purpose of being fruitful in mind, are we going to be hung up on our religions this whole time?”
“I’m trying to squeeze an entire semester of theology here into an hour,” answered Keating with a chuckle. “In some ways, God teaches us but we don’t understand. Religions are, to a certain extent, human-made, human ways of thinking.”
It was in an effort to explore those ways that Pax Christi R.I. — the local branch of the international Catholic peace movement based in Brussels — organized the event.
“I hope that this motivates people to ask further questions and explore more,” said Patricia Fontes, a member of the organization’s board. “It showed there’s a lot of openness to others.”
Keating focused her formal remarks on the history of cooperation between Christians and Muslims — such as the economic, political and academic cooperation of the two communities in what is now Spain from the 8th to 10th centuries A.D. — as well as what the Catholic Church has to say on Islam.
“Muslims and Christians have a long, complicated history together,” she said. “Some of that history is positive and some of it is negative.
“The Church doesn’t say to leave your beliefs behind,” she continued, saying that the main line of Catholic thought on the matter can be summarized as “the idea that we need to recognize the past and leave it behind in order to move forward, and that every person is deserving of respect and dignity.”
According to the Pew Research Center’s Religious Landscape Study, less than 1 percent of Rhode Islanders identify as Muslim, while 75 percent identify as Christian.
Keating said that she wants people to feel motivated to continue such conversations moving forward.
“The most important thing is always people getting to know each other,” she said. “It’s almost always the case that when you get to know someone your views on them change.
“Dialog really is understanding the other person and not just being heard yourself,” she concluded.
“We need to explore each other’s beliefs, but that exploration should never end in violence. It should end in conversation and thinking.”
Kevin G. Andrade is a freelance writer. He also wrote for The Journal about a campaign stop in Rhode Island by Ramfis Dominguez Trujillo, a candidate for the presidency of the Dominican Republic