Several correspondents have inquired about the upcoming Common Word conference at the University of South Carolina, which I mentioned in my last post, “Esoteric Ecumenism“, so I thought I should provide some additional information.

This is one in a series of “interfaith dialogues” prompted by A Common Word Between Us and You, an open letter to Christians issued by 138 Muslim scholars and clerics on 13 October 2007. The fundamental premise of the letter is that “the best basis for future dialogue and understanding [between Muslims and Christians] is the love of God and the love of the neighbor”.

Common Word gatherings have since been held in a number of locations throughout the world, including a July 2008 conference at Yale and, most recently, a “Catholic-Muslim” forum in Rome last November.

Our conference, offered under the auspices of the USC Barnes Symposium and co-sponsored by Zayed University in the United Arab Emirates, is called “Theory and Application of a Common Word“. It will include a day of sessions focused on the “horizontal” issues of environmental policy and human rights (Thursday, March 26) and a day on the “vertical” issues arising from a comparative exploration of theology, mysticism, and metaphysics in the two traditions (Friday, March 27). All sessions are to be held in the auditorium of the USC School of Law, and there will be a live webcast in both video and audio formats. Here is the agenda for both days.

My own presentation is scheduled for the 2:30 P.M. session on Friday, March 27. I am paired with Dr Joseph Lumbard, a professor of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at Brandeis University. Dr Lumbard, like several other conference participants—including my USC colleague Dr Waleed El-Ansary—is a former student of Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s. I’m calling my talk “Disagreeing to Agree”.

One of my aims, as perhaps can be guessed from this title, will be to challenge what I call “planimetric ecumenism”. Key to the presentation is Schuon’s crucial “dialogical” insight that one must “conform to holy separation at the base to realize holy union at the summit” (see the chapter “The Nature and Function of the Spiritual Master” in his book Logic and Transcendence). However well intentioned, an emphasis on superficial or extrinsic commonalities must not lead us to neglect the essential and intrinsic differences between religions, for only by accepting, indeed emphasizing, those differences can we hope to come to true Unity.

Or so at least I shall argue. Stay tuned.