This article was originally published at EerdWord, the official blog of Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., on Tuesday, August 4, 2016. EerdWord hosts the Five Questions interview series in which they send authors a long list of questions. Some are serious, and some are . . . not so serious. They choose their five favorites and respond.
They interviewed Kathleen A. Cahalan and Douglas J. Schuurman, the co-editors of Calling in Today’s World: Voices from Eight Interfaith Perspectives, which is the book that sprang out of the Collegeville Institute’s Seminar Interfaith Perspectives on Vocation.
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1. What’s the story behind Calling in Today’s World? Why and how did it come to be?
We both have done a lot of teaching and writing about calling in Christian tradition. As we present these insights to students, pastors, and other religiously-minded people we are often asked how members of other religious faiths think about what Christians understand as calling. Many also ask whether someone who is agnostic or atheist can have a sense of calling. We also found that when practitioners and experts of other world religions would comment on our work, they would often say things like “in Hinduism we have very similar ideas,” or “in Islam this is very closely related to what you say Christians mean by vocation.” Our own curiosity about how diverse world faiths understand the ways in which their experience and ideas connect life with God, or ultimate reality, moved us to create this book.
2. What makes Calling in Today’s World a unique contribution?
There is a genuine need for this book. In it experts representing Jewish, Islamic, Hindu, Buddhist, Confucian, Daoist, secular humanist, and Catholic and Protestant Christian traditions explore how callings are experienced and lived within their communities of faith and offer key texts, stories, persons, concepts, and discernment practices that exemplify each tradition’s view of vocation. Each chapter also considers how modern life poses both difficulties and opportunities for living out a sense of calling — and what each tradition has to offer contemporary believers as they search to live faithfully in today’s world.
As the US becomes more religiously diverse, members of faith communities meet every day in college classes, work places, neighborhoods, volunteer organizations, and efforts for social change. If people of faith want to live and work together for the common good, it is imperative that they try to understand each other’s values and beliefs. Learning how others experience a sense of calling and live with meaning and purpose can enliven and deepen connections across communities.
A unique, in-depth study of vocation across religious traditions, Calling in Today’s World offers a significant contribution to the field of comparative theology and opens up fresh conversations among diverse voices about faith in the modern world.
3. What audience do you envision reading this book?
Any student or person interested in studying the meaning of calling should read this book. They could be undergraduates enrolled in courses that focus on professional identity and ethics, Christian theology, comparative religion, or world religions. While vocation is clearly a Christian concept, each tradition has teachings and practices that point to a sense of calling in relation to work and everyday life. Many students are exploring vocation across college campuses and are curious about interfaith perspectives on how they can makes sense of their life and choices. In addition, graduate students exploring the call to ministry, especially those engaged in interfaith ministries, will be aided by broader thinking on vocation.
4. What do you hope readers take away from reading Calling in Today’s World?
We hope that readers will come to see in a new way that each religious tradition has a beauty and uniqueness of its own as well as interesting similarities and points of contact. For example, Christians might be surprised to learn that calling, in the sense of God’s direct communication or the calling of religious leaders, is a strange notion for many Jews. Judaism holds the identity and formation of the community as its central task, and to speak of calling is not, then, about individuals but about the whole people of Israel. Likewise for Muslims. For Hindus, calling can be compared to two central ideas. Svabhava refers to one’s own nature and of work that flows from the intrinsic nature of each human being; it is a form of worship to God. The living out of svabhava is referred to as svadharma, which means that all individual lives and work have a social and cosmic significance because each contributes to the harmony and well-being of all. Each of these ideas is akin to Christian notions of a general calling that all the baptized share, the purpose of which is to build up the common good.
5. What’s something not enough people know about calling and vocation?
Many people do not appreciate how complex calling is; they think (and hope) it is much simpler than it is. For example, many Christians think God has a calling for them and their job is to get the information from God and follow through on it. It requires relationship, conversation, and discernment — practices that all religions embrace as a person discerns their life choices and paths. It takes time, intentionality, and creativity that includes getting lost, asking for help, and forging ahead on the journey.
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