September 23, 2008

Student group sponsoring interfaith discussion

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Promoting dialogue and mutual understanding among people of diverse backgrounds in the Carbondale area is the goal of the annual Intercultural Dialogue Student Association (IDSA) Dialogue Iftar Dinner on Friday, Sept. 26. The theme of the Registered Student Organization’s “fast-breaking” event is “Interfaith Dialogue for Better Societies.” The dinner is slated for 6:30 p.m. in the Old Main Restaurant in Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Student Center.

The guest speaker for the evening, the Rev. Thomas Michel, Society of Jesus, has an extensive educational background as well as worldwide teaching and speaking experience on the topic of interreligious dialogue. An ordained priest since 1967, Michel entered the Society of Jesus in 1969 and currently serves as the society’s secretary for interreligious dialogue. He is also on the academic council of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

A St. Louis native, Michel studied philosophy and theology there before earning his doctorate in Islamic thought at the University of Chicago. He’s studied Arabic in Lebanon and Egypt and taught in Indonesia, the Philippines, Turkey, Albania, Italy and various other locations.

He’s held a variety of positions in the past three decades, including head of the Office for Islam for the Vatican Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, ecumenical secretary of the Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences, member of the International Advisory Panel of the International Movement for a Just World in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and much more. He’s spoken in venues the world over, including delivering the D’Arcy Lectures at Oxford University in England on the topic of Christian-Muslim relations.

The IDSA will present its annual Carbondale Peace and Dialogue Award at Friday’s dinner as well. The Niagara Foundation of Chicago is co-sponsor for the dinner. For more information about the event or IDSA contact Ismail Guneydas, president of IDSA, at or look online at