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"With all the displacement and disasters of the 21st century, both natural and man-made, people can feel disconnected from the place in which they find themselves living, Dr. Ingrid Mattson said in a lecture on June 21 at Hartford Seminary.

Dr. Mattson, who taught at the Seminary from 1998-2012, discussed those challenges and how to respond to them in a talk she called “The Earth Is a Home for You.”

“Disasters really force us back to our bodies,” she said, describing her family’s experience during the October 2011 snowstorm in Connecticut. “They are about place. … Where we are and who is with us determines how we survive. One minute we are strangers, the next we are clutching hands in the dark.”

Finding that send of place and connectedness can be difficult, though, for people who are new to the place they’re living, including those who have fled oppression.

“We live in a time of great displacement and transition,” she said. “To feel like we belong, we need to be connected to both the nature and the culture of that place.”

Often, Dr. Mattson said, it’s easier to connect to the land and to “non-human beings” than it is to connect to the culture. “The Qu’ran talks about other creatures as having their own communities that intersect with ours.”

Along with finding a place in the community, Dr. Mattson talked about the responsibility to live simply and lessen consumption so that we don’t infringe on the rights of those struggling to meet basic needs.

Lessening consumption — and understanding the difference between desires and needs — is a “better spiritual practice,” she said. Indulging in luxuries impacts “the ability of others to meet their urgent life-sustaining needs.” Energy consumption in the United States and Canada is just one example, she said.

Dr. Mattson is the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. At Hartford Seminary, she was a Professor of Islamic Studies, founder of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program and director of the Macdonald Center for Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations."



As the featured speaker for the biennial Michael Rion Lecture, Hartford attorney Peter Kelly addresses “Faithful Values at Work: Democracy Building, Relationships, and a Sense of Humor.”

Mr. Kelly has a distinguished and varied career in public service in Hartford, across the nation, and around the world.  His success and effectiveness has been rooted in core values learned from family and faith, and his lecture will illustrate his conviction that every life makes an impact when motivated by a commitment to justice and respect for all.

The lecture, named in honor of Michael Rion, a former Seminary president, honors an individual who embodies a dedication to ministry in daily life and is committed to service to others. It took place in the Meeting Room at Hartford Seminary, 77 Sherman St., Hartford, CT.

Professor, writer and speaker Omid Safi had a challenging message for those attending his talk at Hartford Seminary on April 24: "The world is messed up. It is broken and we are the ones that are breaking it."

In his hourlong address, Dr. Safi gave an overview of humanity's failings in taking care of "the least of our brothers" as well as the health of the planet. The prophetic tradition at the heart of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, he said, calls on us to be uncomfortable about the sad state of our world and to do something about it.

Using Martin Luther King Jr. as an example of a prophet voicing uncomfortable truths, Dr. Safi talked about making change in the world "because the mandate of our conscience leaves us no other choice."

"How we are with the most marginalized of God's children is how we are with God," he said.

He called on ministers, rabbis and imams to continue King's tradition of asking us to examine our actions in the face of injustice. "It should be a moral and religious crisis," he said.

Omid Safi is a leading Muslim public intellectual, award-winning teacher and speaker. He has been a Professor of Islamic Studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, specializing in contemporary Islamic thought and classical Islam. He is the Chair for the Islamic Mysticism group at the American Academy of Religion, the largest international organization devoted to the academic study of religion. He has been nominated six times at Colgate University for the "Professor of the Year" award, and before that twice at Duke University for the Distinguished Lecturer award. At the University of North Carolina, he received the award for mentoring minority students in 2009, and the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Were the missionaries who traveled from Connecticut to Hawaii during the 19th century products of their time with good intentions, or were they arrogant meddlers who helped dismantle the native culture?

The answer is complicated, said four experts who sat on a panel on Thursday night at Hartford Seminary. The discussion was part of a series of events on Hawaii and its Connecticut connection taking place this year.

The Rev. Dr. Steven Blackburn, Faculty Associate in Semitic Scriptures and Hartford Seminary’s Library Director, gave a historical overview of the missionaries, who had great success at converting the Hawaiian people to Christianity. In part, this was because they felt it was their duty to change the native culture.

“They had no fear of disrupting Hawaiian society,” he said.

Dr. Blackburn talked about the “collateral damage” caused by the missionaries. “After 200 years, we’re still wrestling with the implications of whether the missionaries are good agents or bad agents,” he said.

Following Dr. Blackburn, Dr. Clifford Putney of Bentley University discussed his book on two of the CT Missionaries event 001early missionaries to Hawaii: Peter and Fanny Gulick. The Gulicks were passionate about the mission to Hawaii, which would have been considered quite dangerous at the time.

Their legacy, like that of many missionaries, is “mixed.” They helped educate native Hawaiians but “the early missionaries did not respect Hawaiian culture,” which they found “heathenish.”

Aolani Kailihou, a native Hawaiian who teaches at a school that immerses students in the Hawaiian language, talked about the missionaries’ impact from the perspective of a culture still grappling with the repercussions.

“It’s an emotional topic in Hawaii,” she said. “Everyone has their own take.”

As a researcher and teacher, she often deals with the journals and writings of the missionaries, who looked down on the people they were trying to convert. “It is not easy to read the things these people wrote,” she said.

While Hawaiians are still in some ways recovering from the damage caused by missionaries, she said the future is bright because the “narratives are changing.” Interest in Hawaiian scholarship and language is helping to reframe the story.

Dr. David Keanu Sai,  who has a Ph.D. in Political Science specializing in Hawaiian Constitutionalism and International Relations, closed the event by talking about the missionaries from a historical Hawaiian perspective. He said that Chief Kamehameha decided to join the British empire as a way to deal with the warring kingdoms that inhabited the islands. To do that, he “knew he had to transform religion.” He was expecting British missionaries, but instead found himself with Americans.

“Christianity did take a very strong hold, not because of the missionaries, but because of the chiefs,” he said.


The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and a leading Palestinian Christian theologian, writer, and activist, spoke at Hartford Seminary on Wednesday about his latest book, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes.

Dr. Raheb, who spent three months doing post-doctorate research at Hartford Seminary in 1996, is on a tour of the U.S. to promote the latest of his 16 books. He began by saying that the first 15 books could be seen as “dancing to the rhythm of 19th century European organ music.” This last book, he said, is where he has finally started to “discover the beat of the Palestinian drum.”

Faith in the Face of Empire, he said, was his attempt to bridge the gap between the theologians and the political scientists, who look at different time periods without any overlap.

He also said the “Palestinian narrative” hasn’t been part of the discussion as strategists talk about the Middle East. That narrative, he said, has been one of a series of occupations, the story of which can be told through the lens of the Bible.

Mitri Raheb lunch talk 008


“The whole Bible is nothing but the response of the occupied people to the empire,” he said.

In a discussion with the audience, Dr. Raheb said he believed that politics has become too focused on talking about peace rather than making it, making a distinction between the politics of a place and its people. He also said that too much religion has created problems as well.

“As a pastor, I work for less religion, more faith,” he said.


The University of Hartford generously sent one of its own to Hartford Seminary Friday to give a lunch talk on “Jewish Theology and the Holocaust.”

Dr. Avinoam Patt is the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History at the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Hartford, where he is also director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization. He is the author of Finding Home and Homeland: Jewish Youth and Zionism in the Aftermath of the Holocaust.

Dr. Patt gave an overview of Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust, drawing on his work as a historian at both UHart and at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

He described nine different theological responses to the Holocaust, ranging from the notion that the Jewish people are “suffering servants” meant to suffer for the sins of the world to the idea that God turns away at times from human affairs to the “inscrutable mystery” approach.

Dr. Patt also talked about how Jews reacted during the Holocaust. Some found a deepening of their faith, even risking their lives to perform Jewish rituals, while others turned away and decided they couldn’t believe in a God that could let such suffering happen.

For more news and events from Hartford Seminary, please visit www.hartsem.edu/events


It was close to a full house on Wednesday evening at Hartford Seminary as Prof. Mahmoud Ayoub and the Rev. Matt Laney of Asylum Hill Congregational Church gave a joint presentation on “The Bible and the Qur’an.”

The event was a continuation of the Interfaith University program developed this fall by the Asylum Hill Congregational Church. The purpose of Interfaith University is to explore what it means to be a Christian in a multi-faith world, and this year’s program focused on Islam. When the four week program concluded, participants wanted more, and among the followup events planned was this presentation and conversation at Hartford Seminary.

Rev. Laney started the program with an overview of the Bible, explaining that it is a collection of 66 books written by more than 40 authors over about 1,400 years. He compared it to a “really good sandwich” that has a lot of great ingredients. Another way to see it, he said, was as a “dance of storyteller, situation and Spirit.”

Christians see the Bible as the “Word” of God, he said, rather than as the “words” of God.

In his presentation, Prof. Ayoub said that the Qur’an, for Muslims, is literally a recitation from God revealed to the Prophet Muhammad. But he added that the idea of the word of God is “far more complicated than the book we call the Qur’an.”

“The Qur’an entered the Muslim community, shaped it and was shaped by it,” he said.

Prof. Ayoub said that he sees the Qur’an as a pluralistic book that calls for Muslims to respect those who practice other faiths, although not all Muslims agree with him. A lively question and answer session followed the presentations.

For more information about Interfaith University, visit the Asylum Hill Congregational Church website.



A very special evening celebrating the audiobook release of Prof. Miriam Therese Winter’s “The Singer and the Song: An Autobiography of the Spirit.”

The audiobook was narrated by acclaimed singer-songwriter Janis Ian, who won a Grammy for her own audiobook “Society’s Child.” Janis Ian also sings a selection of Prof. Winter’s songs on the recording.

First published in 1999, “The Singer and the Song” tells the remarkable story of Miriam Therese Winter, professor of Liturgy, Worship, Spirituality and Feminist Studies at Hartford Seminary.

Audible.com describes the book this way: “An award-winning musician and four-time Catholic Book Award-winner shares her experiences of becoming a Sister, working with starving children in Ethiopia and with refugees in Cambodia, of exploring the mysteries of India and the wonders of God in her own backyard, of having breast cancer and having hope. She also illumines new aspects of community, Eucharist, the word and spirit, water and the stars, spiritual blessedness, and much more.”


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