Dedication of the Center

It is my pleasure to welcome you here tonight as we explore the effect of Nostra Aetate on Jewish-Christian Relations and honor Rabbi Myer Kripke, whose gift to Creighton University will enable us to strengthen interfaith dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews, and other faiths in the greater Omaha-Council Bluffs area.

Director Ron Simkins speaks at the dedication of the Kripke Center

Nostra Aetate is a document issued by the Second Vatican Council in 1965, which called for a new relationship between Christians and Jews. The Church recognized the common spiritual heritage she shares with the Jewish people - that God established an ancient covenant with the Jews that continues to this day. Nostra Aetate therefore condemns sins against the Jewish people for which Christians have been guilty. The Church condemns, for example, the charge of deicide against the Jews or that the Jews are rejected or accursed by God. The Church also deplores all hatreds, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism leveled at any time or from any source against the Jews.

Based on our common spiritual heritage, Nostra Aetate calls on Christians to join with Jews in dialogue toward mutual understanding and appreciation. Later in the public lectures, our distinguished guests will discuss Nostra Aetate.

Tonight is a fitting occasion to honor Rabbi Kripke, for interfaith dialogue has been a hallmark of Rabbi Kripke’s life and ministry: as the Rabbi of Beth-El Synagogue and as an adjunct professor in Creighton’s Theology Department. The Kripke Center, which is being named in his honor, has made interfaith dialogue an integral aspect of its mission.

Thanks to the generosity of Rabbi Kripke, the Kripke Center will have the resources to launch new programs and initiatives to support and strengthen interfaith dialogue among the faith communities of the greater Omaha-Council Bluffs area.

The Center for the Study of Religion and Society was founded by Creighton University in 1988. In the past seventeen years, the Center has grown to be an interdisciplinary academic center that supports scholarly activity in the form of research, publication, conferences, seminars, symposia, fora, and lectures. Although the Center is an academic center, it has been committed to making its scholarship available and accessible to the public and all those who seek it.

Of the many successful events and projects of the Center, I would like to highlight three for you. First, from its inception, the Center has partnered with the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization to sponsor the Klutznick, now the Klutznick-Harris Symposium. This year will be our 17th year of sponsorship of this significant collaboration between Creighton University and the Jewish Community.

Second, the Center publishes the Journal of Religion & Society, an academic, electronic journal now in its seventh year of publication. This journal has attracted prominent scholars from around the nation and across the globe, further enhancing the reputation of the Center.

Third, the Center sponsors significant programs on relevant and timely issues. Last January [2004], for example, the Center sponsored, with a number of co-sponsors including the ADL and JELS, a symposium on Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. We brought together a nationally-prominent group of scholars to explore some of the issues surrounding the movie before it was released. Our work was cited in newspapers across the country, and the papers of the symposium were published immediately in our journal, and continue to be cited in scholarly literature today.

And, of course, tonight we consider the effect of Nostra Aetate on Jewish-Christian Relations.

The new Kripke Center will continue to build on its past strengths and successes. We will continue to support projects and research in the broad areas of religion and society, and communicate this scholarship to the public in many forms.

But as a central focus of the work of the Kripke Center, we will launch this spring the Kripke Interfaith Project. The Kripke Interfaith Project will be dedicated to improving the understanding between and among faith communities. The project will be dedicated to Research, Education, and Service, and will be overseen by a community advisory board consisting of members of the Creighton community and the Omaha Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities.

The Research Component of the project will be dedicated to funding serious research in the various faith traditions with the purpose of promoting understanding and providing a foundation for interfaith dialogue. Some initial areas of research, as suggested by the faculty of the Center, include:

  • the uses (and abuses) of Scripture(s) within and across faith traditions;
  • the role of missionary activities;
  • the portrayal of religious groups in popular media;
  • the inclusivity and exclusivity of faith;
  • the role and use of violence by religion.

The exploration of these topics and others will be facilitated through research grants, symposia, and seminars. Tomorrow, for example, the Kripke Center is sponsoring a seminar on the academic issues of Jewish-Christian relations, conducted by Fr. Pawlikowski and Rabbi Klenicki, as a way to facilitate further faculty research in this area.

An event that we are planning in November is a symposium on Violence and Religion. We will invite nationally recognized experts on the role of violence in religion, both in the contemporary context of terrorism and in historical examples such as the Crusades and Colonialism, to join faculty of the Kripke Center to explore this important topic. Violence is an impediment to interfaith dialogue; we must understand its causes and failures to move beyond it.

The results of this and other research will be communicated through the Educational Programs of the Center in the form of lectures, panel discussions, fora, and various publications.

The Service Component of the Kripke Interfaith Project will include work outside the university, to encompass the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Native American, and other faith communities in the greater Omaha-Council Bluffs area. The project will work with local faith communities to foster dialogue and understanding, by sponsoring round-table discussion groups, reading groups, panel discussions, and community events such as popular talks, storytelling, social mixers, and service projects. The events and activities of the project will be guided by the community advisory board of the project.

The success of the Kripke Center depends on two issues: the strength and dedication of the faculty of the Center, and the funds to support the many projects sponsored and envisioned by the Center. As director of the Center, let me express my confidence and gratitude on these two issues.

First, the faculty. Creighton has hired, and the Center has attracted, a group of serious and enthusiastic scholars who are enormously talented and who have resolved to use those talents to further the goals and mission of the Center. These faculty have continued to bring forward new ideas and initiatives to further the study of religion in American society, and have demonstrated time and time again their commitment to realizing their ideas and initiatives.

Second, the funding. Thanks to the generous gift of Rabbi Kripke, the Center now has a permanent source of funding to realize this vision.

Although interfaith dialogue strives for mutual understanding, in Jewish-Christian relations the burden of the dialogue begins with Christians and the Church. Ours is the history of anti-Semitism; ours is the duty of reconciliation. It is appropriate then, that the Kripke Center, with its focus on interfaith dialogue, is housed in a Jesuit-Catholic university. Creighton University has had a long and important relationship with the Jewish Community. I am proud of this relationship, and the Kripke Center will build upon and further strengthen this relationship.

Rabbi, with your gift you have placed trust in the Center, its faculty, and in Creighton University. As we focus on interfaith dialogue, we seek to honor you and realize your vision for understanding between and among faith communities. On behalf of the faculty of the Center, I offer our sincere thanks and deep appreciation.