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Prof's Sabbatical An Opportunity to Teach and Learn from Muslims

by Laura Lehman Amstutz

Lawrence Yoder
Yoder's sabbatical offered a number of different opportunities to teach and learn with a diverse group of students.

HARRISONBURG, Va. - Lawrence M. Yoder spent part of his sabbatical on the other side of the world, teaching in a classroom largely comprised of Muslims.

Dr. Yoder, professor of missiology at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, spent the second half of his sabbatical year at the Indonesian Consortium for Religious Studies (ICRS) in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, an international, inter-religious doctoral studies program sponsored jointly by three universities - Christian, Muslim and state-run.

He team-taught a course on the history of religions in Indonesia with Dr. Syafa'atun, an Indonesian Muslim professor, and Dr. Bernard Adeney-Risakotta, who is also director of the program.

His course had eight Muslim students and five Christians, five women and eight men. Each course at ICRS is intentionally team-taught by a Muslim and a Christian and by a male and female to bring diverse perspectives to the subject matter.

"The most prominent feature of this program is that all teaching about any particular religion is done in the presence of and with the participation of faculty and students representing different religions," said Yoder. "Interpretation of the Bible and the Quran are done in the same class."

Students in the course learned about the history of Christianity, Islam, Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism and indigenous religions from Yoder, his Muslim colleagues Dr. Syafa'atun and Dr. Adeney-Risakotta, and several visiting speakers from other religions.

Course is first opportunity for Yoder to engage Muslims in Indonesia

"This course and participating in the whole ICRS program gave me my first sustained opportunity to work with Muslim leaders and scholars," said Yoder, who spent nine years in Indonesia, 1970-79, and has returned 17 times since then.

Lawrence Yoder
Yoder speaks with a student outside a traditional eatery.

"It was a challenge to generate, with my co-professors and students, an integrated view of the stories of the introduction, development and interaction of religions, which are more typically discussed and presented in isolation or distinction from each other," Yoder said.

"Christians and Muslims usually see different stories when they think about the history of religion in Indonesia," he added. "In this course we were trying to generate a vision that virtually doesn't exist in published form."

Yoder also participated in a half-day conference at Sunan Kalijaga Islamic University on Islamic da'wah (mission) and Christian mission.

"Speaking together about how we understand and practice faith propagation helps us to recognize that this is an integral part of both Islam and Christianity," said Yoder. "It helps to reduce suspicion and perhaps even discover more appropriate and mutually acceptable ways to do mission and da'wah."

Yoder asks questions about future dialogue

"Christianity is becoming more centered in Africa, Asia and Latin America," he said. "It is growing much more rapidly than northern Christianity."

Yoder is returning from sabbatical with new insights to bring into his seminary classroom.

"My sabbatical made me ask questions like 'Do we northern Christians have what it takes to sit at the feet of our southern brothers and sisters and learn how to follow Jesus in a world dominated by other religions and belief systems?'" Yoder continued. "Are we willing to learn and teach Christian faith with Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus listening in and adding their perspective to what we are saying?"

Yoder was recently cited for 25 years service on the seminary faculty.

posted 5/23/08