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Home  /  Religious Studies  /  Thomas Shoemaker  /  Courses & Programs  /  Engagement Website  /  Definitions and Examples

Welcome to the Engagement Website

The interaction between individuals, cultures, and religious traditions can be placed in three general categories: Intolerance, Tolerance, and Engagement. Engagement moves beyond tolerance, seeking real interaction without the fear of being dominated. Religious traditions have been used to justify all three. But when each is evaluated by its results, we note that human civilization has flowered best under the approach of engagement.

Baghdad's House of Wisdom

In the 800s, the Abbasid Empire's rulers, especially Haroun ar-Rashid (who ruled 786-809 C.E.) and his son Al-Ma'mun (ruled 813-833 C.E.), established and nurtured a library of scholarly works gathered from Africa, modern Turkey, Babylon, India, China and the modern Asian republics, and from this collection they created an empire-wide intellectual center that welcomed Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sabeans and Zoroastrians in the pursuit of knowledge of astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, medicine, lingusitics and more.


At the western end of the Islamic world, on the Iberian peninsula (now Spain/Portugal) Abd ar-Rahman III (reigned from 929-961 C.E.) made his capital city of Córdoba the model of culture and learning in the world. During his reign and that of his son al-Hakam II (961-976 C.E.) the royal library swelled to 400,000 volumes, many of them works about music, poetry, and even cuisine. This is the Golden Age of convivencia, with figures like the Jewish physician Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the second most powerful person in the caliphate.

World Parliament of Religions

In the shadow of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the Reverend Dr. John Henry Burrows organized the first gathering of represenatives from Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism and other traditions, giving each, over the course of 16 days, the opportunity to present their traditions in their own words to the West. It was the first time many Americans had even heard of some of the traditions, and it set in motion a movement that continues to this day. (The next Parliament of the World's Religions will be held in 2014 in Brussels.)

Each of the historical moments above shows us a different face of Engagement. In Baghdad, the caliphs valued the pursuit of knowledge. In al-Andalus, the sharing was realized in the culture (foods, music, clothes, language, poetry). And at the World Parliament of Religions, religion itself became the centerpiece. We have many possibilities behind and before us.