IR Summer Reading, Part 2, By Timothy Light and Burhan Erdem

Posted on August 17th, 2009 | Filed under Best Practices/Non-Profit, Faith and Politics, In Print: New Books, InterViews

This is the second installment of our special summer reading articles. We hope that you enjoy -- and consider submitting some additional recommendations of your own. Timothy Light is Emeritus Professor of Chinese Religions at Western Michigan University. Burhan Erdem is a graduate of Hartford Seminary and is working towards a towards a degree in Cross-Cultural Studies at the University of Houston and involved in the Gülen Institute. Both serve on the Journal's Board of Scholars and Practitioners.

Timothy Light's Suggested Reading:

Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine, an Autobiography. By Huston Smith with Jeffery Paine.  New York: HarperOne, 2009.  196 pp.; Index, Foreword (by Pico Iyer) and Prologue.

Through his prolific writings, speeches, and television programs Huston Smith has been more influential than any other single individual in opening Americans' minds to the basic facts and the attractiveness of religions beyond Christianity and Judaism.   For that reason alone, his memoir written at age ninety belongs on the should-read list of anyone with a serious interest in interfaith dialogue.  Smith's origins as a missionary child with a rather fundamentalist understanding and his journeys through many epiphanies to becoming a pluralist Christian deeply influenced by Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Native American religions give him a fascinating story to tell.

Clearly and simply written, the book is a pleasurable summer read.  On his own account, Smith is not a scholar, but a religious "communicator".   As with other honest autobiographies, Smith's story both illustrates a level of attainment which the reader can only admire and simultaneously mirrors those faults of ego, blindness, and prejudgment which we dismay in finding in ourselves.  Since both Smith's goals and his personal shortcomings continue in abundance amongst us who come after him, a brief immersion in his life is thoroughly educational and salutary.

Burhan Erdem's Suggested Reading:

Advocate of Dialogue: Fethullah Gulen. By Ali Ünal and Alphonse Williams. Westport, CT: Fountain Publications, 2000. 400 pp.

Another must-read, this indispensible book fills the absence of a 'Gülen Reader' for those interested in interfaith dialogue and the international Gülen Movement. You will find an abundance of information on Fethullah Gülen's life story and ideas related to Islamic issues ranging from Jihad to spirituality, human rights, philosophy, and democracy, as well as his personal impact both inside and beyond Turkey.

Gülen's contributions are examined through the lens of the large network of educational institutions created in accord with his personal understanding of an ideal education. The ideal education, in his own words, is a phenomenon which should be "open to positive sciences"; religious education, on the other hand, should not be based on the "miracles of past saints" but "include spirituality".

After reading the book, it becomes clear what distinguishes Fethullah Gülen: his ability to put his ideals into practice. In Islamic terminology, scholars who combine both the intellectual and spiritual capacities are called 'zul janahayn' which means the one with two wings. Gülen, however, also adds a third wing - 'altruistic activism' - and becomes "zul ajniha," 'the one with three wings'.

Israel's former Sephardic Chief Rabbi notes that Fetullah Gülen is "A voice that must be heard," and both the Greek Patriarch Bartholomeus I and Monsignor Georges Marovitch, a Vatican Representative in Turkey, express briefly their view that he is a remarkable example "of harmony and tolerance for all of us." Yes; he is a voice to be listened to, and one clearly heard in this wonderful biographical work compiled by Ali Ünal and Alphonse Williams.



This term has been first uttered in the conference, "Islam in the Contemporary World: The Gülen Movement in Thought and Practicethat took place in Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

Muslim Citizens of the Globalized World: Contributions of the Gulen Movement . Edited by Robert A. Hunt and Yuksel A. Aslandogan Rutherford, NJ: The Light Inc. 198 pp.

Through the editorial hand of Robert A. Hunt and Y.Alp Aslandoğan, articles from conference proceedings on the Gülen Movement have been selected and compiled into a first-rate book. In opposition to Huntington's 'clash of civilizations," the book emphasizes the fact that, in a world where the boundaries are only a mouse-click away, Muslims, and particularly Turkish Muslims, are part of the cosmopolitan world and have contributed to "democratization, scientific revolution, changing gender roles, and religious diversity." The articles also scrutinize the vision of the Turkish scholar, preacher and activist, Fethullah Gülen, who is also known as an 'advocate of dialogue', and the Gülen Movement that has been carried well beyond the borders of Turkey, where it was born.

The book focuses not only on the educational aspect of the Gülen Movement but also on other characteristics, such as women's participation and its understanding of 'contemporary global Islam.' Fethullah Gülen's interpretation of democracy, modernism, the Qur'an and the prophetic tradition, as presented in the book, reveal why he is so often referred to as the 'advocate of dialogue'.


Preface, V, Citizens of the Globalized World

lightTim Light is a native of Kalamazoo, MichiganLight is a scholar in East Asian languages and literature. He served as provost of Kalamazoo College and later became a professor of religion and provost at Western Michigan University. He is recognized as a preeminent scholar within his field and holds a number of scholarly affiliations, including to the Board of Scholars and Practitioners of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue. His areas of academic interest include Chinese religion and theory as well as the way in which academy approaches the study of religion.

burhanBurhan Erdem is a graduate of Hartford Seminary, where he received an MA in Religious Studies. He has served as a fellow for a number of organizations and conferences, such as the “Common Word Conference” at Yale, and is currently volunteering for The Institute of Interfaith Dialog and Gülen Institute in Houston, Texas and working towards a degree in Cross-Cultural Studies at University of Houston. As an emerging leader, he has already contributed greatly to the institutions of which he is a part.

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