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Wendy Smith

Representations of Jewish-Christian Relations in Literature

Religion is...


I think it was studying Classics to degree level that gave me my first enjoyment of learning about cultures and practices different from the ones with which I had been brought up. Upon graduating and completing a teaching qualification, I moved from a rural part of England to north London, where I lived for the next forty years, teaching Classics in a very multi-cultural environment.

My first friendships with people from a different religious background from my own were with neighbours, colleagues and students from the Jewish community - orthodox, reform and liberal. I quickly realised how much my life was enriched and my awareness deepened by our conversations about Jewish practice, by the kind invitations I received to synagogue services and Pesach seder nights and by the willingness of some to share personal stories of persecution in 20th-century Europe. As the school I worked in became increasingly culturally and religiously diverse, I found that discussions in class about the beliefs and practices of the Greeks and Romans were often a way in to empathetic conversations with students from a diverse range of traditions about their own practices and history, which helped to forge very positive interactions.

At this time, I also discovered the interfaith work and writings of Brother Daniel Faivre, who wrote in his 'Prayer of Hope': 'Whether it be through dialogues and inter-faith celebrations, or through friendships developed over many years, the glimpse of another human being's inner world is an enormous privilege. It may be a painful experience, yet it can be life-giving in an extraordinary way'. While I was working full-time, I was able to do some reading about interfaith issues and even to make a very memorable visit to Jerusalem, but retirement gives me the chance to try to put some of this on a more academic and solid foundation.

I thoroughly enjoyed the course Representations of Jewish-Christian Relations in Literature, as I re-read some familiar texts through an interfaith lens and enjoyed discovering one author about whom I knew nothing. Religion is… gave me a wide-ranging basis, which I value very much, and I hope to be able to explore some of the topics, such as issues of gender in religion, in more depth. The last module of that course was particularly heart-warming, as under the guidance of our tutors, participants produced examples of interfaith collaboration, some of which had come about as a result of COVID-19. As we emerge from the pandemic, I hope that such interfaith collaboration will continue to address a range of issues, including that of the environment and climate change, and I am very grateful to the Woolf Institute for its willingness to give a scholarly basis to ongoing dialogue and action.

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