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Seattle University


Don’t go there? How can we not?

Written by Mike Thee
October 28, 2009

Religion is one of the most difficult subjects to talk about. But that isn’t deterring Sharon Suh from putting it front and center in this year’s Academic Salons program. “There are few areas of human concerns that do not relate to religion or some belief system,” says Suh, Salons director and associate professor of theology and religious studies. And yet, “Religion is often separated out as a separate category of analysis—even at a Jesuit school like SU.”

The 2009-10 salons, formally titled “Religion and Social Change,” is striving to bring religion into dialogue with human rights, sustainability, gender and sexuality, law, politics and globalization. “These are issues I’m passionate about,” says Suh, explaining why she made her proposal to direct the salons for the next two years.

Her hope is the program will get students to think of religion differently, “beyond going to church or temple and beyond what they might ordinarily perceive to be religion.”

She’s also hoping to examine and challenge stereotypes on contemporary religion. “So many negative perceptions of religion, particularly Islam, have surfaced since 9/11,” she says. The Salons are intended to “help balance out some of the negative images we see.”

Suh says she is “so thankful that Father Steve talked at University Convocation about engaging with other belief systems.” That indeed will be a big part of this year’s salons program. The promise of interreligious dialogue collaboration was on display this month when the salons hosted an interfaith dialogue featuring a rabbi, pastor and sheik. In the year ahead, Suh is looking to take things a step further by engaging agnostics and atheists in conversation.

In the winter quarter the Salons program will likely focus on religious conflicts; religion and sustainability will be explored in the spring.

Suh has also been working to strengthen the Salons program’s collaboration with Magis: Alumni Committed for Mission to help “alumni get acquainted with active students and make that relationship more concrete.”

Suh is quick to point out that the Salons are not just for students. Two reading groups will be formed for faculty and staff to discuss Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Infidel and Jan Willis’s Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist.

Suh also plans to continue “Fridays at the Wismer,” a series initiated by her predecessor Theresa Earenfight, who directed the Salons from 2006-09. Suh is expecting to hold about two of these a quarter so faculty and staff can come together and discuss important issues in an informal setting. And she of course invites faculty and staff to attend as many Salons events as they can.