On the CST Bookshelf this month: Rhythms of Religious Ritual: The Yearly Cycle of Jews, Christians, and Muslims written by CST’s Gerald H. Kennedy Professor of Homiletics and Liturgics, Dr. Kathy Black, and published by Claremont Press. Her book explores the religious cycles and calendars of the Abrahamic faiths and is an edited volume that includes contributions from Jonathan Friedmann and Tamar Frankiel, Jihad Turk and Hamid Mavani, and Bishop Kyrillos.
Dr. Black says, “As students from various religious traditions engage one another on our campus, I was interested in the ‘rhythms’ of each tradition’s yearly cycle and how important that might be in our shared life together.”
Dr. Black described a scene that took place on CST’s campus last year that exemplified the rhythms of religious ritual. She said:
A few days before school began in August, our Muslim friends were observing the second most important festival in the Islamic Year – Eid-ul-Adha. It celebrates the central focus of the Hajj pilgrimage, the Day of Arafat, where pilgrims walk to the ‘Mount of Mercy’ or the ‘Hill of Forgiveness’ in the plain of Arafat where the Prophet Mohammad (Peace be Upon Him) delivered his farewell sermon. It is on this day of redemption where pilgrims ask for forgiveness, receive mercy from God, and respond anew to God’s call on their lives. On this spot, it is believed that the veil between heaven and earth is the ‘thinnest’ and God’s forgiveness flows into the hearts of the pilgrims.
At the same moment, there was a Sukkah between the dean’s office and the chapel which reminded us that our Jewish friends had celebrated the New Year at Rosh Hashanah and observed their most holy of days, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Sukkot, a pilgrimage festival, remembers the impermanence of the Israelites’ wandering in the wilderness and the presence of the divine that guided them as well as the presence of God that guides our own impermanent lives.
Knowing about the history and beliefs of different religious traditions is important. But equally important is knowledge of the prayer/worship/ritual practices that form adherents to these religions. In the course of a year, Jews, Christians, and Muslims retell the stories that shaped their faith tradition, honor key ancestors, mourn tragic events, highlight sacred texts, and celebrate occasions of divine guidance, even divine intervention in our world. These occasions, observances, festivals, days, and seasons call us to reclaim who we are in relationship to our community of faith.
Contributors to Dr. Black’s book came from CST’s partner schools: Bayan Claremont, Academy for Jewish Religion (AJR), and St. Athanasius and St. Cyril Coptic Orthodox Theological School (ACTS). Here is what a few of the contributors had to say:
Dr. Hamid Mavani, Bayan: Collaborating with Dr. Kathy Black was a joy and a delight. I was impressed by her depth of understanding of the different traditions and eagerness to learn more about them. She was generous in putting my name on the cover page even though my contribution to her book project was nominal.
Dr. Tamar Frankiel, AJR: I was delighted to contribute to Rhythms, which provides a new foundation for interreligious dialogue: concise descriptions of ritual life as exemplified in the calendars of the three major Western religions. Kathy has captured the emotional and thematic dynamics of holidays and commemorations as well as their seasonal and historical significance. The concise and accessible format, free of extraneous commentary, makes it literally a handbook – one should have it at hand whenever one is engaging in interactions with those of other religions.
President Jihad Turk, Bayan: By making the core practices and rituals of major world religions accessible, Dr. Black facilitates a greater appreciation for how people of faith journey collectively to live out shared values in their own respective ways.
At the end of the book there is a “Comparisons and Conclusions” chapter, and most of the book is in outline form, so it is quite accessible to anyone seeking interreligious understanding.
Dr. Black says, “As a scholar, one can learn about another’s religious practices but there is a deep knowledge that is gained through being a lifelong participant in the beliefs and ritual/worship/prayer practices that form us. I was thrilled to have such wonderful collaborators from our interfaith partners at the Academy of Jewish Religion, CA, and Bayan Claremont. The book would not have been possible without their contributions.”
Dr. Black is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church and has served as college chaplain, associate pastor, and the founding pastor of a deaf church. Her research and teaching interests center on feminist liturgy, multicultural worship, emergent worship styles, comparative ritual practices, Liturgical Art, and ministry with persons with disabilities.
Claremont Press, the publisher of this book, is the official imprint of CST and has published ten books to date, including:
Partners with God: Theological and Critical Readings of the Bible in Honor of Marvin A. Sweeney; In Spirit and in Truth: Philosophical Reflections on Liturgy and Worship; Christian Origins and the New Testament in the Greco-Roman Context: Essays in Honor of Dennis R. MacDonald; and Prophetic Voices on Middle East Peace: A Jewish, Christian, and Humanist Primer on Colonialism, Zionism, and Nationalism in the Middle East.
“Claremont Press publishes critical scholarship in religious studies, including studies in sacred texts, in the history of religious traditions and religious thought, in theoretical and practical theology and in interreligious dialogue [and] welcomes studies focused on any of the world’s great religious traditions and texts. The press particularly appreciates works with an interreligious interest.” For more information, visit www.claremontpress.com.