Thursday, Jan. 31, 2008

Religion classes aim to inspire dialogue

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A different type of interfaith dialogue is set to begin Monday, when students gather inside Glade United Church of Christ in Walkersville to study at The Frederick School of Religion.

Established in 1983, the volunteer nonprofit and interfaith outreach organization offers a yearly selection of 11 classes for adults that explore specific faith topics.

It’s not a typical Sunday school. Local professors, religious leaders and experts teach courses that meet afternoons or evenings and end before the Holy Week of Easter.

This year, basic Judaism, Islamic spirituality and ethics, Handel’s ‘‘Messiah,” lost Christian communities and the separation of church and state are some of the subjects offered.

According to Henry Walter, the school’s registrar, 70 people representing nearly 30 different religious congregations have signed up for classes so far. None of the classes have filled up yet, Walter said; class size is limited to 20 students.

The idea for a community religion school began 25 years ago with members of Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick, said Nan Doggett, one of the school’s founders.

Doggett, a member of that church, said the congregation wanted to form a ministry that would help them foster relationships with other churches. The goal of the school is to build relationships with different faith communities and to grow in faith, she said.

‘‘We aim to have courses that are more in-depth and with well-equipped professors,” Doggett said. ‘‘We don’t proselytize — we just offer enrichment that would be as meaningful in your church.”

The effort became ecumenical between different Protestant and Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues.

The school’s board of directors meets during the summer to plan the following year’s course offerings, line up teachers and coordinate meeting space at local, mid-sized churches.

In the past, the Frederick School of Religion has studied topics of crime and punishment in faith, Islamic prophets and the music of classical composer Johannes Brahms.

Walter, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Frederick, has signed up for three classes, including ‘‘Introduction to Islamic Spirituality, Shari’ah law and ethics,” a new course taught by Imam Yahya Hendi of the Islamic Society of Frederick. Walter said he had met Hendi and has sampled the Koran. ‘‘I’d just like to see what their thinking is,” he said of his reason for joining the class.

According to the course description, the class will focus on the basic beliefs of Islam and how they apply to ethics, law, social and political structures. It will also discuss how Muslims interpret law and whether or not that interpretation is inherently violent or not.

Hendi, also a Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, will compare Islamic law to U.S. law and human values during the class, he said.

Hendi said this week that he has taught classes at the Frederick School of Religion before, and that the school attracts people of various professional and ethnic backgrounds.

Hendi said he hopes the class will build bridges between Muslims and other people of faith and to show that Islam is a religion of peace. Hendi said that if he can show this to the class and break down the cycle of fear, ‘‘I think the fear of Islam will disappear.”

How to sign up

The Frederick School of Religion will offer courses at Glade United Church of Christ, 21 Fulton Ave., in Walkersville. The cost is $22 for each class and registration ends Monday. Visit www.frederickschoolofreligion.org for registration forms and instructions.