OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

Tutu, other scholars at OSU to explore images of God

02/01/2000

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Seven internationally regarded scholars of religion, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Bishop Desmond Tutu, will explore different images of God - and the factors that influence those images - at a conference Feb. 11-12 at Oregon St ate University.

The "God at 2000" conference will be televised nationally via satellite by the Episcopal Cathedral Teleconferencing Network to more than 600 downlink sites. The network also will present a live "webcast" of the conference over the Internet.

Sponsored by OSU, the Trinity Institute of New York and the Chautauqua Institution, the conference is drawing a sellout crowd to LaSells Stewart Center in Corvallis, where a stellar roster of speakers will answer the question, "Given your lifetime of stu dy, experience and reflection, how do you see the sacred?"

Conference lecturers represent the three major western religions - Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

They include Karen Armstrong, a leading British commentator on religion and a former Roman Catholic nun; Marcus Borg, the Hundere Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State, a best-selling author and conference organizer; Joan Chittister, Benedict ine sister, lecturer and author of 19 books; Diana Eck, professor of comparative religions and Indian studies at Harvard University; Lawrence Kushner, rabbi, author and lecturer on the Jewish tradition; Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor at George Washingto n University and one of the world's foremost experts on Islam; and Desmond Tutu, retired Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Borg said one purpose of the event is to take a fresh look at God at the dawn of the new millennium.

"How we think and talk about God is very much affected by the times in which we live," Borg said. "The factors that influence our perceptions of God are very different now than they were in the year 1000, and will be in the year 3000. Science, feminism, technology, religious pluralism, liberation theology, ecology, and global awareness can significantly affect how individuals view God."

This is the second major conference on religion that OSU has hosted in recent years. In 1996, the university held a "Jesus at 2000" conference to commemorate what scholars consider to be the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus' birth. During that conference, a number of scholars addressed contemporary and historical issues relating to Jesus.

Exploring images of God is more complex, Borg acknowledges, but just as important. He cites a Gallup poll which found that 95 percent of all Americans say they believe in God, compared to 35 percent of the population in England, and even lower numbers in other European countries.

While the reasons for such disparity may be historical - conceivably traced back to religious ties with authoritarian rule in Europe - it nevertheless means that most Americans have some image of God.

But, Borg points out, those images may differ more now than ever.

"That is especially true when you realize that we've gone from a primarily Jewish-Christian society to a more pluralistic society," Borg said. "We have, for example, more Muslims in this country that we do Episcopalians or Presbyterians. That's very new. "

Borg has lectured around the world on historical Jesus studies and images of God. The OSU professor is the author of the best-selling "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time," and the award-winning, "The God We Never Knew."

He says there are a number of questions about God that people from different segments of society may share. Among the questions frequently asked:

  • How has science affected religion - and religion affected science?

     

  • Are all religions talking about the same God and using different language, or are the gods of each religion really different?

     

  • Is the notion of God an antiquated, outdated idea, or is it a reality that can be experienced?

     

  • Is God a distant creator who was only active long ago, or is God very much present in the processes of today's world?

     

  • Is God primarily a judge concerned with personal behavior, righteousness and deeds, or a liberator passionate about justice?

     

  • Is our growing awareness of the effect of gender in language affecting how we think of God?

     

  • Is the sacred absent from nature, or a part of it, and how have those images intensified as environmental issues become more prevalent?

     

  • What is the relationship between religious traditions, beliefs and scriptures, and God? Are those traditions an obstacle to a relationship with God, or a vehicle for a relationship?

In his conference presentation, Borg will not only address different forms of theism, but also different forms of atheism. Forms of atheism, he says, range from "absolute atheism," in which individuals reject all notions of God, to "relative atheism," whe re persons may reject one or more images of God.

"How we think about God matters," Borg said. "Our concepts and images of the sacred shape our sense of reality or unreality of God, our sense of God's character and our perception of what life with God is all about." More information on the conference - including downlink sites and access to the "webcast" - is available on the conference Web site or by calling 541-737-6195.

The conference will be interpreted for the hearing impaired.