Emerging Religious Leaders

The ICJS and the Washington Theological Consortium have partnered to offer a study program that brings together seminarians and rabbinical students to engage in textual study and conversation.

This intensive course raises up the commonalities of our traditions; but, more importantly, it focuses on the particular ways our respective communities read, interpret, and embody their traditions, thus opening the way for the examination of the roots of religious conflict and the promise of new models of collaborative learning. 

ERL 2017


A week of sermon slams, interreligious speed dating, and study: the ICJS brings Jewish and Christian seminarians from across the country for interfaith retreat.

For the fourth year the ICJS Emerging Religious Leaders program invited Jewish and Christian seminarians from across the country for four days of intensive interreligious studying at the Pearlstone Center in Baltimore.

The ICJS hosts the annual retreat in partnership with the Washington Theological Consortium (WTC). ICJS scholars Dr. Heather Miller Rubens, the Roman Catholic Scholar, and Dr. Benjamin Sax, the Jewish Scholar, taught courses alongside WTC faculty and Rabbi Dr. Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Director of the Department of Multifaith Studies at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College.

Rachel Cohen, a seminarian at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, credited the retreat with reconnecting her to her calling to seminary. “This retreat has been one of the most formative pieces of my first year of seminary. There is a piece of my personal vision and purpose that is easy for me to lose sight of when in my own religious bubble and language. Broadening my experience to interact with emerging leaders in different faith traditions brought me back to some of the highest sense of my calling,” Cohen said. “Having almost a week to get to know each other and share matters of our lives, our callings, our theology, our personal and spiritual struggles made this among the most influential interfaith encounters I have had in my life.”

After meeting each other for the first time, the 21 students got to work building an interreligious vocabulary, praying together, and engaging with Jewish and Christian responses to scripture and theologians.

No topic was off the table. Seminarians shared and listened to each other’s understandings of crucifixion, atonement, salvation, the trinity, church, sacraments, revelation, scripture, sacrifice, eschatology, salvation, and grace.

Rubens led a case study discussion on Jews in England, posing questions such as: What does it mean to be a minority? How do court definitions of religion impact minority religious communities?

Sax began the first full day of the retreat with a discussion on Jewish theological language and concepts. “It’s critical,” Sax explained, “that we understand not all theological concepts in Judaism are translatable into the language of other religious traditions.” He also taught a page from the Babylonian Talmud, which explored how ancient rabbis talked about other religious communities.

The cohort also engaged with a lighter side of interreligious dialogue. Activities included interreligious speed dating and a sermon slam.

In her evaluation of ERL, Margie Baker, a Christian seminarian, pointed to the program’s ability to highlight religious differences as a place to engage and come together. “This conference has been transformative for me as a Christian and a future religious leader,” Baker wrote. “Good interfaith intention is not enough. We need training as well as the opportunity to deeply interact with Jewish leaders. This week we engaged in dialogue and debate, but we also prayed, sang songs, and got to know each other. This is not a kumbaya event, and for me the places where we were different were as compelling as our similarities.”