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25 January 2017 Changing the Conversation (170509) Celebrating More Than 50 Years (170509) Conscience-Based Moral Judgments (170509) Dignitaries Humanae (170509) False Views on Jesus' Views on Divorce (170509) Mission and Human Rights (170509) Jesus and the Ordination of Women (170516) 29 May 2017 How much of Church Doctrine do we really believe? (170602) Trump Pulls Out of Paris Agreement (170602) 05 June 2017 Thoughts on Religious Vocations: An Open Letter to Pope Francis (170605) I can't get the institutional church out of my system (170618) 25 June 2017 Just War? Enough Already (170703) What would Teilhard say? Evolve or be annihilated (170710) Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (170719) Religion's Wax Nose (170726) American Civil Religion (170731) A Heresy of the Times (170807) Cardinal Calls for Global Church (170818) The Price of Being a Prophet (170821) The Implosion of the Roman Catholic Church (170902) Reflection on Racism in America (170913) Who am I? Where am I going? (170918) One Priest's Hopes for the Mass Translation (170925) The Edge of the Inside (171002) Selective Christianity (171016) Theology at the Cutting Edge: Healing the Political and Social Divide in America (171016) Resisting Islamophobia Is The Catholic Thing To Do. (171023) It Started With a Letter to the Archbishop (171030) Why Do We Still Tolerate Mass Stipends? (171106) Their Cross to Bear: Catholic Women Told to Forgive (171113) Papal loyalists become dissidents (171120) Echoes of Theocracy (171127) Will Pope Francis Remove the 'Warning'? (171204) Gumbleton on Nuclear Deterrence (171211) The Scandal of the 2011 Missal (171218)
ARCC News 2018
Prophets of a Future Not Our Own (20180101) 2018: Time to Become Ultra-Human? (20180118) Time for a Bonfire of Their Vanities? (20180122) Until All Are Welcome My House, My Rules: 3 Women "Rejected" (20180208) Policing the Communion Line (20180205) A Time to Judge (20180212) Mary McAleese Being Banned is Embarrassing (20180219) Correct, Don't Complicate Excommunication (20180226) Catholic Tradition, Labour, and Organizing Workers (20180305) Misogyny in the Vatican (20180312) The Unofficial Saint of the Internet (20180318) Francis Invites Change, But We Are the Change (20180325) Rediscovering the Role of Mary Magdalene as Apostle of the Apostles (20180401) Synodality and its Perils (20180409) Get rid of the clergy - But keep Holy Orders (20180415) Renewing the Program of Priestly Formation (20180429) Male and Female, in the image and likeness of God (20180506) Wedding Bans: Why Do Parishes Turn Young Couples Away? (20180513) Christian Humanism, the Path to the Divine (20180520) Mary - Prophet and Priest (20180527) A Wake-Up Call to Liberal Theologians (20160603) Canonization is right for Oscar Romero (20180610) Could the Church take a risk? (20180618) AJC expresses "Profound Concern" over beatification (20180624) The Bible's #MeToo Problem (20180701) 'Humanae Vitae' and the census fidelium (20180715) The Catholic Church wasn't always so against contraception (20180722) 50 years later, scientist's findings on birth control... (20180729) #MeToo, Your Excellency The Catholic Church needs a way to deal with bad bishops (20180812) The Catholic Church is tempted by power and obsessed with sex (20180819) Real change against abuse... (20180826) Pope Francis is facing a crisis of justice (20180829) Catholics Are Facing a Very Real Emergency (20180902) Truth and its violent consequences (20180909) The Third Millennial Catholic Reformation (20180917) Reality in an Historical-Critical Perspective (20180923) Both Prudential & Indisputable (20180930) Catholic Crossroads and Catholic Conflict (20181007) Schism or Evolution? (20181015) Theology: Stones or Bread? (20181028) White Christian America (20181102) Stone Throwing. Or Not. (20181104) Young People, Hope for the Church(es) (20181112) Who Represents the Laity? (20181118) Open Letter to the US Catholic Bishops: It's Over (20181125) From Collegiality to Synodality (20181203) The Birth of the Messiah (20181217) A Non-traditional Blessing for 2019 (20181231)
ARCC News 2019 Changing Power Relationships


Celebrating More Than 50 Years (170509)

Celebrating More Than 50 Years


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Religion Professor Celebrates More than 50 Years at
Temple University
                                           by Sara Curnow Wilson


To tell the story of Leonard ("Len") Swidler is to tell the story of the Temple's Department of Religion-and, in a way, the university itself.
Swidler started at Temple in 1966, shortly after the university became state-affiliated.
"Suddenly there was this influx of, relatively speaking, huge amounts of money," he explains. "The money situation shifted dramatically."
What this shift meant was that the university was able to hire hundreds of new faculty. Swidler was one of those hires-and almost accidentally. At the time, he was living in Pittsburgh with no plans to relocate. He was an associate professor in the philosophy department at Duquesne University. He had recently founded the Journal of Ecumenical Studies (link is external), the first scholarly journal for interreligious dialogue, and he had an FM radio program where he would interview visiting academics.
"I wasn't interested in going anywhere," he says. "Things were so exciting there."
In fact, Swidler was actively seeking candidates for Duquesne's new theology department. One of the people he approached was a member of Temple's (also new) religion department, who said he would think about it and get back to him.
"A couple of days later he called me up and said, 'Well, I talked to my chairman Bernard Phillips and he said he wants to hire you, Leonard Swidler, your co-editor Elwyn Smith and the journal,'" Swidler remembers.
Though Swidler was not interested in the position, his co-editor was. Swidler agreed to take the interview for him but resolved to make a particular demand: he would not consider the job unless Phillips committed himself to hiring a number of faculty representing each major religion.  "And I said to myself, 'Of course, he's not going to say yes, but that's it.'"
But Phillips surprised Swidler.  "He said 'that's a great idea. I'll do it.' And he did it!"
This may not seem notable from a contemporary perspective, but at the time interreligious study was not standard practice. Departments typically only taught the prevailing religion of their particular university; moreover, many programs were housed within schools of divinity instead of majors within a liberal arts college.
Swidler, Smith and the Journal of Ecumenical Studies moved to Temple. Phillips kept his promise and the department grew in size and recognition.
"Bernard Phillips hired giants, and so Temple University's religion department was known worldwide, anywhere in a circle of academics in the study of religion," says Swidler. "There was no place where you could get a doctorate in religious studies. It did not exist. We were creating it."
Not everyone thought it was a great idea. The department model received criticism from the University of Pennsylvania. 
"They were all Protestant, of course," Swidler explains. "The then-chair of that department publicly remarked that we were operating on the 'zoo theory.' What did he mean by that? Well, you have one lion, and you have one tiger, and you have one antelope; you have one Catholic, and one Jew, and one Presbyterian."
Of course, thanks to Swidler, there was not just one representative per religious group. There were many-more a safari than a zoo. Before long, the rest of the nation's universities followed suit.
This year, Swidler celebrates his 50th year at Temple University. The Journal of Ecumenical Studies remains the premiere journal for interreligious dialogue and has been joined by the Dialogue Institute (link is external), the journal's home and outreach arm.
And what does he say to those who criticized his ideas?
"Imitation is the greatest form of flattery," he laughs.
Leonard Swidler is a Founder/President of ARCC.
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