Toward Open Christianity Bard College

Conference Overview

Interest in the future of Christianity has intensified in recent years among scholars, social commentators, political strategists and, of course, Christians themselves. Much of that interest develops in response to fissures evident along cultural, social, ethnic, inter- and intra- religious lines. What values and understandings will inform the quality of Christian witness in the twenty-first century? Will Christian communions and individuals welcome the opportunity to work collaboratively in pluralistic and democratic societies? Or will they recoil at that prospect and seek to impose parochially crafted notions of truth?

On issues that ramify across Christian communions today—gender, sexuality, reproductive interventions, family structure, school curriculums, end-of-life decisions, religious pluralism, political participation, economic responsibility, and global security—an underlying awareness emerges that also at stake is the meaning of Christianity itself. Those who advocate doctrinally rigid or fundamentalist responses suggest that "liberal" approaches will result in the erosion of Christian identity and lead into an abyss of relativism. Advocates for progressive change argue that Christianity is by nature dynamic and needs to develop its message in conversation with reason and experience, as well as received traditions.

The "Toward Open Christianity" Symposium will focus on approaches to Christian thought and practice that are intentionally "open" on several levels: intellectual, social and personal. Symposium papers and conversations will engage the theme of openness scripturally, historically, theologically, pastorally and spiritually. What does it mean to Christian truth-claims to be profoundly open to the world's astonishing diversity of belief and practice? What does it mean to Christian traditions, when minds are open to radical discoveries in the physical and life sciences about the cosmos and human existence? What does it mean to be open not only intellectually, but ecclesially, to the critical-historical examination of the sources of Christian tradition, including the Bible and official doctrine? What are the foundations of interpretive practice from the perspective of openness? While such questions are far from new, they arguably converge at this time with particular urgency, as organized, conservative Christianity makes its presence felt at every level of ecclesial and political life, both nationally and internationally. It will require the collaboration of academics, pastors, and activists, if the visions and concerns of alternative perspectives are to be heard.

In the spirit of fostering such collaboration, this symposium focuses on the theme of openness to invite a level of inquiry that reaches beyond that of beliefs – and disagreements about them—into the forms that belief takes. This focus concerns not only what Christians believe, but how they believe. In particular, how are beliefs, religious and otherwise, interrelated and organized into systems? What are the properties of Christian belief systems that enable some to be "open," that is, receptive to new ideas, information and cultural situations, while others remain "closed"? What are the similarities and, indeed, linkages, between religious and political belief systems?

The Bard Symposium "Toward Open Christianity" will foster study, conversation and planning through lectures, panel discussions, workshops, prayer and strategy sessions. Scholarly presentations will provide critical examinations of the bases for openness. Poets and artists will offer imaginative perspectives. Workshops and panel discussions will afford opportunities to engage the concerns of particular perspectives—gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sexualities; feminism; race; social class; the environment; political activism. Discussions will also explore strategies to represent effectively open perspectives within Christian communities, as well as the broader society. Opportunities for prayer will be structured into the program, to allow time and space for appropriation and integration of conference perspectives at the level of spirit.

Symposium organizers: Bruce D. Chilton (Chaplain of the College and Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion, Bard College); Nancy S. Leonard (Professor of Literature, Bard College); Jacob Neusner (Research Professor of Theology, Bard College); Paul E. Murray (Catholic Chaplain and Visiting Assistant Professor of Religion, Bard College)

Donations welcome: Make cheques payable to Bard College and include the notation: "Donation to Open Christianity Symposium"

Sponsors: The Toward Open Christianity Symposium is able to take place thanks to the co-sponsorship of the following organizations:

For information on making a donation or co-sponsorship for your organization, please contact us.

Thanks for a grant providing partial support from the New York Council for the Humanities, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this program and website do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment of the Humanities.


Toward Open Christianity
A Symposium on Christ
in a Pluralistic World
April 13-15, 2007
Conference Overview
Schedule of Events
Travel Information