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Changing Dialogue

Changing Dialogue
Greg Schaber

James Buchanan is on the phone. His voice pours quietly into the sunlit hallway outside his second-floor office in Hinkle Hall. Buchanan waves an acknowledgement, takes a few minutes to wind up the conversation and opens the door wide. The office is small, the lighting low and the furnishings sparse and neutral—adjectives that stand in stark contrast to Buchanan’s plans.

In April, Buchanan was named director of the Brueggeman Center for Interreligious Dialogue, taking the place of the retiring Joseph Bracken, S.J. For the next hour he describes his vision for the center—expanded programs, interdisciplinary ideas aimed at involving all facets of the University community, efforts to reach out into the community at large, fundraising. The message is clear: These are exciting times for the 10-year-old center, which honors the memory of Edward B. Brueggeman, S.J., a former chairman of the University’s department of theology and a leading proponent for interfaith cooperation.

To start with, the center will soon have, well, a center. Although it’s been in existence since 1993—it was named for Brueggeman in 1996, a year after his death—the center has never had a physical home. That will change this fall when the center takes up residence in the former home of the late professor emeritus Joseph Link. Located at the far end of the residential mall between the Manor House and the Jesuit residence, the Tudor-style house is currently under renovation and should be ready sometime early in the fall semester, Buchanan says. The downstairs will be used for a library, reading room and offices. The upstairs is being converted into an apartment to house the Brueggeman chair—a visiting scholar from one of the non-Christian religious traditions.

The center’s increased visibility comes with an expanded mission and a new name—The Edward B. Brueggeman Center for Dialogue.

“The focus of the center will always be issues of social and environmental justice, global responsibilities and interreligious dialogue,” says Buchanan, who came to the University three years ago as Besl family chair in the Ethics/ Religion and Society programs. “The point of changing the name is not to change the mission, but the term ‘interreligious’ limited the dialogue partners. What we want to do is enhance the mission and the constituency of the center.”

Broadening the constituency is critical if the center is to grow and flourish. Inviting the community at large to become a stakeholder not only increases the center’s stature and relevance, but also provides broader avenues for funding. Much of the original endowment to support the visiting scholar was pieced together by Brueggeman himself from donations over a 14-year period, says department of theology chair William Madges. More recently, additional funding has come from a variety of sources, including what Buchanan describes as “a generous contribution” from the Julia Winter Cohen Bequest that will be used to support programming. And over the next several years, Buchanan plans to take the center’s message on the road, meeting with donors nationwide in an attempt to increase the endowment.

He also hopes to draw co-sponsors for various events from both the University and the community at large. As a model, he points to a town hall meeting this spring in which the center and other University entities such as the Center for Business Ethics and Corporate Responsibility, the Ethics/Religion and Society program and the Community Building Collaborative served as co-sponsors with community sources.

The added resources will help the center present a broad swath of programming that ranges from large public gatherings, such as the town hall meetings, to very specific, narrowly focused academic projects. Buchanan also hopes to set yearly themes that involve as many aspects of the University community as possible. And finally, he’d like to have a group of fellows connected to the center, including faculty fellows drawn from within the University, an external faculty fellow whose expertise falls in line with the year’s theme, four or five student fellows and a non-profit fellow.

In the end, he says, all of this activity leads back to helping the center better fulfill its original mission.

“What we want to do,” he says, “is to create critical conversations about the important issues of the day that draw to the table people who don’t normally come to the table together.”

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