Presented by the Interfaith Council of Thanks-Giving Foundation, Perkins School of Theology, and the Dallas Institute

Religion is almost always a community affair, not merely a private practice. And religious communities always exist in some relationship with the wider society of which they and their members are a part. Yet religions vary in their understanding of what role their communities and members should play in the larger society, and why. They have different understandings of how their members should address the greater community and its needs. We could say that they have different theologies of social engagement, or different ideas about how faith is put into practice in a social setting.

The 2020-21 Faiths in Conversation Series will explore what different religions teach as the guiding principles and goals for their participation in social life beyond their own religious community. Aimed at offering people of all cultures, faith, and traditions opportunities to learn about the religions of their neighbors, the monthly sessions will approach relevant topics of faith from academic–and accessible–perspectives, with audience participation encouraged.

The Fall and Spring series, all online, will focus on “Religion in Society” from the perspectives of the major faith traditions, featuring Shinto, Islam, Zoroastrian, Jewish, Hindu, and Christian traditions.

February 1st, 4:00 pm–Hinduism in Society
March 1st, 4:00 pm–Christianity in Society

Free admission; donations appreciated!





Dr. Jeffery Long is the Carl W. Zeigler Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania, where he has taught since receiving his doctoral degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School in the year 2000. He is the author of four books: A Vision for Hinduism, Jainism: An Introduction, the Historical Dictionary of Hinduism (first and second editions), and, most recently, Hinduism in America: A Convergence of Worlds. He is also the editor of the volume Perspectives on Reincarnation: Hindu, Christian, and Scientific and co-editor of the Buddhism and Jainism volumes of the Springer Encyclopedia of Indian Religions. He is also the series editor of Explorations in Indic Traditions: Ethical, Philosophical, and Theological, a book series which is published by Lexington Books. In 2018, Dr. Long received the Hindu American Foundation’s Dharma Seva Award for his work to promote accurate and culturally sensitive portrayals of Hindu traditions in the American education system and media. He has spoken in venues around the world, including at Princeton University, Yale University, the University of Chicago, Jawaharlal Nehru University, and three presentations in 2019 at the United Nations Headquarters, in New York. He is currently working on an introduction to Indian philosophy.


Anne Carolyn Klein/Rigzin Drolma, is Professor and a former Chair of the Department of Religion, Rice University, where she helped developed a contemplative studies concentration for graduate students. Co-founder of the Dawn Mountain Center for Tibetan Buddhism ( She is also a Lama in the Nyingma (ancient) Buddhist tradition.

Her central thematic interest is the embodied interaction between head and heart across a spectrum of Buddhist theories of cognitive and somatic knowing. She participates also in the emerging field of micro-phenomenology where the juxtaposition of philosophical, scientific, and experiential research promises a fresh way of bridging traditional and contemporary cultures’ ways of knowing. She is the author of seven books, including Heart Essence of the Vast Expanse. Her academic achievement includes B.A. Cum Laude with Highest Honors in English, State University of New York at Binghamton (Harpur College) 1969, M.A. in Indian Studies, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1971 & Ph.D. in Religious Studies, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, 1981.



Rev. Dr. Whitney S. Bodman came to Austin Seminary in 2002 from Harvard Divinity School where he completed his Th.D. in Comparative Religion and Islamic Studies. He retired from teaching in 2018, but continues to write, teach, and participate in some seminary and community programs.

A 1977 MDiv graduate of Duke Divinity School, Dr. Bodman was ordained in the United Church of Christ. He pastored several churches in Massachusetts, and was involved in interfaith organizations, the Interfaith Relations Commission of the National Council of Churches and the Jewish-Christian and Muslim-Christian Dialogues in Massachusetts. Currently, he is co-moderator of the National Council of Churches’ Muslim-Christian Dialogue and a participant in the Jewish-Christian Dialogue and an interfaith theology working group. His current research focuses on the Qur’an, political theology, and Muslim-Christian relations. In Austin, Dr. Bodman is active with his church, the Congregational Church of Austin. He is past president of Texas Impact, an interfaith organization that seeks to help religious communities engage effectively with the Texas State Legislature on a wide range of issues of public policy.


To Be Announced!



Monday, September 14, 4-5:30 pm
The suggested reading for this session is an excerpt from Shinto: The Way Home, by Thomas P. Kasulis (University of Hawai'i Press)


James Mark Shields is Professor of Comparative Humanities and Asian Thought and was Inaugural Director of the Humanities Center at Bucknell University (Lewisburg, PA). Educated at McGill University (Canada), the University of Cambridge (UK), and Kyoto University (Japan), he conducts research on modern Buddhist thought, Japanese philosophy, comparative ethics and philosophy of religion. He is author of Critical Buddhism: Engaging with Modern Japanese Buddhist Thought (Ashgate, 2011), Against Harmony: Progressive and Radical Buddhism in Modern Japan (Oxford, 2017), and co-editor of Teaching Buddhism in the West: From the Wheel to the Web (Routledge, 2003), Buddhist Responses to Globalization (Lexington, 2014), and The Oxford Handbook of Buddhist Ethics (Oxford, 2018).


Dr. Shira L. Lander (B.A., Yale University, M.H.L., Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania) is Professor of Practice and Director of Jewish Studies specializing in late antique Judaism and Christianity. Her book, Ritual Spaces and Religious Rivalries in Late Roman North Africa (Cambridge, 2016), explores why religious groups competed over and destroyed sites considered holy. Lander previously was the Anna Smith Fine Senior Lecturer of Jewish Studies at Rice University, where she taught in the departments of Religious Studies and History. Before moving to Texas, she taught at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, St. Mary’s Seminary and University, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Delaware, and Princeton University. Her areas of interest include Jewish-Christian relations, sacred space, martyrdom, religious violence, and material culture. Her current research project explores images of synagogues in medieval manuscripts.


Monday, October 5, 4-5:30 pm


Imam Dr. Khalil Abdur-Rashid is the Chair of the Board of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life at Harvard and full-time University Muslim Chaplain at Harvard University. He is also Instructor of Muslim Studies at Harvard Divinity School, and Public Policy Lecturer at the Harvard Kennedy School.

He was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. Imam Dr. Khalil completed his Doctorate in Liberal Studies in American Islam from Southern Methodist University and holds both a Master of Arts in Islamic law and Middle East Studies as well as a Master of Philosophy in Islamic Law and Middle East Studies from Columbia University in New York City. He also holds a full Ijaaza in all Sharia disciplines and completed his Islamic doctoral Seminary degree in Istanbul, Turkey.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in Social Work from Georgia State University and worked for the state of Georgia as a social worker for several years. He has served as an Imam, a special adviser to city leaders, and has years’ experience leading diverse teams of professionals and community leaders in solving community problems.


Dr. Hussein Rashid has a BA in Middle Eastern Studies from Columbia University, a Masters in Theological Studies focusing on Islam, and an MA and PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures, focusing on South and Central Asia from Harvard University. He is a contingent faculty member and has taught at Hofstra University, Fordham University, Iona College, Virginia Theological Seminary, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, SUNY Old Westbury, and Columbia University. His research focuses on Muslims and American popular culture. He writes and speaks about music, comics, movies, and the blogistan. He also has a background in South and Central Asian studies, with a deep interest in Shi’i justice theology. He has published academic works on Muslims and American Popular Culture, Malcolm X, qawwali, intra-Muslim racism, teaching Shi’ism, Islam and comics, free speech, Sikhs and Islamophobia, Muslims in film, and American Muslim spaces of worship. His current project focuses on the role of technology in teaching religion.


Monday, November 2, 4-5:30 pm
The suggested reading for session three is A Brief Introduction to Zoroastrianism and Zoroastrianism in India, by Jesse S. Palsetia.


Professor Jesse S. Palsetia is Professor of History in the Department of History, the University of Guelph, Canada. He is a historian of India and the British Empire. His specialization is the Parsis of India and Bombay city history. He is the author a book and articles on the Parsis, Bombay, and colonial-imperial relations. His work deals with Indians and the non-West in contact with the West from the age of modern empire.


Rachel Ball-Phillips received her Ph.D. in South Asian History from Boston College in 2015, and conducted language study and research through multiple American Institute of Indian Studies language grants, a Fulbright-Nehru Fellowship, and a Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy Fellowship. She currently teaches South Asian history courses at SMU that include the Civilization of India, On the Edges of Empire, Human Rights in Modern South Asia, and Bollywood. She was recently awarded a Manodharma Faculty Travel Grant to set up internship opportunities for SMU students in India. Ball-Phillips is currently completing her manuscript on regional Marathi cinema titled Shaping the Marathi Imagination: Film and Regionalism in Western India, and has started preliminary work on her next project titled Hare Krishnas in Longhorn Country: An Oral History of Devotees in Dallas.

Dr. Ball-Phillips is the Director of National Student Fellowships and the President’s Scholars at SMU. She also serves as the President for the Fulbright Association Dallas Chapter where she is committed to fostering international exchange in the Dallas community.


The suggested reading for session four is from the Encyclopedia Britannica's section on Ethics and Society in Judaism.
Monday, December 7, 4-5:30 pm


Dr. Michael S. Berger received his B.A. cum laude with Honors in Religion from Princeton, M.A., M.Phil, and Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Columbia. He also received a Lady Davis Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Hebrew University, Israel. His research and teaching focus on issues of religious authority, rabbinic literature, and the development of Jewish law in Judaism. He is the author of Rabbinic Authority (Oxford, 1998), and edited The Emergence of Ethical Man (2005) based on the writings of the late Joseph B. Soloveitchik. He has written on medieval & modern Jewish thought, Jewish marriage, and violence in Judaism. He is currently exploring issues in contemporary Jewish identity and education, for which he serves as a consultant.


Rev. Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles is Professor of New Testament and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. She received her B.A. from Stetson University where she focused on both Philosophy and Russian Studies. She earned her M.Div. from Yale Divinity School and her Ph.D. in New Testament from Yale University. Her particular areas of expertise and publication include: The Johannine Literature (the Gospel of John; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Revelation); Evil, Suffering, Death, and Afterlife; Disability Studies and the Bible; Women in the Bible; and Immersion trips to Israel and Palestine.

She is the author of numerous books and essays. Her books include Reading John for Dear Life: A Spiritual Walk with the Fourth Gospel (Westminster John Knox [WJK], 2016), Engaging the Word: The New Testament and the Christian Believer (WJK, 2010); Death and the Afterlife in the New Testament (T&T Clark, 2006); and Scripture Cannot Be Broken: The Social Function of the Use of Scripture in the Fourth Gospel (Brill, 2003).