By Koshan Ali Zamanee
Joshua Stanton is a Founding Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College. He is also a founding co-Director of Lessons of a Lifetime, a nursing home-based project designed to improve intergenerational relations and convey leadership skills to youth. A graduate of Amherst College, he is the recipient of numerous leadership awards, including the Volunteer Hero Award from the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the Hyman P. Moldover Scholarship for Communal Service, and a place within the Fellows Alliance of the Interfaith Youth Core
Koshan: What is the main purpose of your website?
Stanton: Our website is design to increase the quality and frequency of discussions taking place between religious leaders and individuals around the world. Through its forums, people from around the world can now learn with and from one another. We encourage everyone to take part in the discussion at http://www.irdialogue.org.
Koshan: Why do we need religion in our life?
Stanton: Religion is food for our souls. It makes our lives worth living and provides us with a system of values for us to live by.
Koshan: What are those bases whom we should build in order to make sufficient dialogue between different religions?
Stanton: Religion needs to be based on the idea of respect for one’s fellow human being. All religions emphasize the need to care for one other, yet we often forget to understand that this also means caring for people who observe other religions.
Koshan: Do you think that fundamentalism and conservatism are part of?
Stanton: It is difficult for me to say. I think that fundamentalism often comes from the misunderstanding of religious ideas that are in fact quite moderate.
Koshan: What are those foundations of religion that make people think conservatively?
Stanton: The goal in most religious traditions is to interpret the divine messages we believe that we have received from God through His prophets. Sometimes people, conservative and progressive alike, have personal biases which cause them to interpret the divine revelation in either a conservative or progressive way. Often, people with conservative biases are those who have the most power within a given religious community, and are therefore most able to spread their views.
Koshan: Technology and modernism have impacts on most of the concepts, have they impacted religion?
Stanton: Religion is now a truly global phenomenon. Muslims in Asia can now be in immediate contact with those in America; Jews in Europe can now connect immediately with those in South America. And, equally important, people of all religions are now coming in contact with each other’s ideas far more frequently.
Koshan: Do you think we need a religious government or a religious political party? Why?
Stanton: Religion, when used for good in the world, can play a very important role in politics. If misused, religion can actually cause serious problems. Think, for example, of the Crusades as an example in which religion was misused; and the Civil Rights movement in America as an example in which religion was a force for good. Whether religion should play a part in politics depends very much on the particular country and situation.
Koshan: Throughout history, Jews and Muslims had conflicts with each other. What are those reasons that have led to this continues conflict? What do you suggest for them?
Stanton: There are actually a number of important examples in which Jews and Muslims lived in peace and learned a great deal from each other. Think, for example, of al-Andalus. Many of Judaism’s greatest scholars learned new techniques for study from their Muslim friends and neighbors. Similarly, Muslims benefitted greatly from the scientific, medical, and philosophical works of Jewish scholars. I think it is important to study al-Andalus and other historical periods in which Jews and Muslims lived together in peace, in order to reestablish good relations between both religions in the present.
Koshan: Do you think that Islam is a tolerant religion?
Stanton: I believe strongly that Islam is a tolerant religion. However, all religions have fundamentalist elements. I believe that some of the more fundamentalist individuals may be intolerant. But at its core, Islam is a beautiful, tolerant, and peaceful religion. I have the deepest respect for it.
Koshan: Does Islam adopt modernism?
Stanton: I do believe that Islam is an evolving and modernizing tradition. It, like Judaism and Christianity, is working to reconcile science and religion and clarify the place of religion in the modern world.
Koshan: Your final words?
Stanton: It is my sincere hope that Jews and Muslims will live together in peace once again, as they have during a number of periods in history. One of my personal goals is to learn Arabic so that I can speak more directly to my brothers and sisters of a different faith.