About the Institute
The goal of CHAI community is to extend CHAI's practices of peace to synagogue, church and mosque communities. CHAI community can develop out of already existing inter-religious organizations or can develop ex nihilo out of the interests of individuals seeking to create communities of study.
The material offered here provides guidance for individuals and groups who are interested in creating scriptural study groups in their own communities.
For a general set of guidelines for starting a CHAI community group, please see the "Starting a Center" section of this site.
The Problem-Sept. 11/Israel Palestine
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 have given many institutions new energy to attend to something we already should have known: not only that international terrorism threatens the stability of all nations; and not only that there are profound cultural, political, and economic rifts and misunderstandings that divide the industrialized West from many other regions of the world; but that political leaders have failed for generations to address the role of religion not only as a source of these problems but also as a resource for resolving them. Since WWII, peace treaties and diplomatic initiatives that concern relations among Muslim, Christian, and Jewish peoples have consistently bypassed the religious discourses that are central to these people's self-understanding.
The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians illustrates a more general tendency in Western diplomacy to exclude opposing parties' religious interests in all peace negotiations. Simon Peres' vision for avenues for peace in the Middle East typifies the assumption that underlies negotiations and peace treaties among Jews and Arabs, Palestinians and Israelis over the last decades. The assumption is that religion is itself the greatest source of conflict in the Middle East, and that raising the question of religion in negotiations will only open up the most controversial and irreconcilable differences among the parties to the conflict. The hope here is that the negotiations and treaties will help empower the more "enlightened" and less "religious" elements in these societies, bring these elements to realize that their enlightened self-interest lies in shared project of industrial and technical development and a diminished influence of religious interests in the region.
There is no evidence that efforts to suppress or bypass the religious interests in the Middle East have been, in fact, a practically wise or effective move. There is reason at least to hypothesize that the enlightenment ethos that has informed the peace processes may itself be in conflict with beliefs that typify most of the citizens of the region. The negotiators' efforts to bypass religious interests as "fundamentalist" and "intrinsically divisive" may reflect their profound misunderstanding of the meaning and function of religion in the Middle East and of the potential for religion to serve as a source of shared understanding and as vehicle of peace. If this lesson applies to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, it applies equally and perhaps even more forcefully to the variety of conflicts and misunderstandings that lie behind the events of September 11th.
The Solution- what we offer instead
The Children of Abraham Institute ("CHAI") is dedicated to bringing indigenous religious interests back on the map as essential components of peace negotiations between peoples with a history of intense religiosity. The Institute focuses specifically on the three Abrahamic Religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - and on the conflicts that divide peoples who otherwise share allegiance to the same God. The most urgent of these conflicts are, of course, violent ones, but CHAI also focuses on non-violent but socially significant political disagreements among religious groups. There are three aspects to the work of CHAI.
- The first is to cultivate a circle of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars who have learned how to work closely together, studying each other's sacred traditions and generating models of cooperative study among practitioners of the three Abrahamic faiths.
- The second objective is to observe patterns of overlapping understanding that emerge out of sustained dialogues among religious leaders of the three faiths. These dialogues should generate families of "peace practices" that can be translated back into the indigenous vocabularies of the various communities, but that are also continually refined through each event of CHAI's study and conversation. CHAI's vision emerges from out of its participants' overlapping love of the one God whom they encounter through their various traditions of scriptural study. The vision enters actual practice through its participants' friendship with one another.
- The third objective is to enable these religious leaders to establish regional centers of CHAI in their home cities, encouraging gradually expanding circles of Abrahamic practitioners to share in CHAI's practices of study and the ideals of peacemaking. Over time, these circles of study and friendship should include religious and political leaders in their local communities. CHAI's hope is that the close friendship and shared religious understanding among these leaders will encourage them to nurture political peace among their constituents.
- The fourth objective is to develop programs of study-in secondary schools, universities, and seminaries-that prepare future scholars and religious leaders in the methods and visions of peace among the children of Abraham.
Who we are and what we have done
For the past fourteen years, a group of scholars has met in the United States and in England to examine the rules of interpretation and belief that are common to the scriptural traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This effort has generated some remarkable results. Participants have discovered that the three traditions share as many interpretive rules and strategies as they do not share. To their surprise, they have also discovered that the closer their readings come to intimate belief in God, the more closely they understand each other and the more deeply they are moved by similar passions and hopes. These discoveries have led them to articulate overlapping "rules of scriptural reasoning," which they are currently describing in a series of book publications. These rules-and the shared friendship and understanding that accompany them-guide the scholars' efforts to work now with religious leaders around the world to nurture centers of CHAI study.
In 1996, the group was formally named The Society for Scriptural Reasoning. Among its founders were Daniel Hardy and David Ford of Cambridge University and Peter Ochs of the University of Virginia. Its working board now includes an additional twenty scholars from universities in seven different countries, including Jim Fodor (St. Bonaventure, USA), Rachel Muers (Exeter, UK), Steve Kepnes (Colgate, USA), Basit Koshul (International Islamic University, Islamabad), Robert Gibbs (U. Toronto), Nick Adams (Edinburgh, UK), Randi Rashkover (York, USA). The Society publishes a quarterly electronic journal through the University of Virginia's electronic text center.
In the Spring of 2001, members of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning co-founded CHAI as their political-outreach Institute: to articulate the "hermeneutics of peace" that might be implicit in the study practices of the Society and that might be applied to bringing Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious, social, and political leaders into shared study not only of the texts of Scripture but also of the paths and actions of peace that those texts demand.
CHAI has since spread to include a variety of institutions and groups around the world. More information about some of these can be found on the Existing Centers page.