Morteza Rezazadeh, at right, says that ?one of the most rewarding religious activities is to use faith as a tool for peacemaking in society.? He expects that a year of studying peace-building at Hartford Seminary will help him ?spread the message of love and peace in the world? when he returns to Iran.
Zulunungsang Lemtur, at left, says that ?learning from and building on positive traditions and values of different faiths, we may draw strength, to overcome the apathy, selfishness and arrogance which have enfeebled and divided our communities and undermined the credibility of our religions.? He expects to return to India with new tools for dialogue and greater self-awareness.
Morteza and Zulu, as he is known, are the International Peacemaking Program students at Hartford Seminary for 2012-2013. Morteza is enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, Zulu is in the Graduate Certificate in Interfaith Dialogue.
Hartford Seminary initiated the International Peacemaking Program (IPP) in 2004, recognizing the need for skilled peacemakers in countries where there is interreligious conflict. Students in the program spend an academic year honing their interfaith dialogue and leadership skills, as well as enhancing their public engagement and public speaking skills. In addition to their formal studies, students are hosted by a local faith community where they experience American religious culture firsthand.
Students receive a scholarship covering tuition, books, travel and housing. After a year, the students return home to put their new skills and knowledge into practice.
Morteza has Bachelor of Arts degrees from the Islamic Seminary of Qom and the Imam Khomeini Educational and Research Institute and a Master of Arts degree from the University of Religions and Denominations in Iran.
He is Cultural Deputy of the International Institute for Islamic Studies (IIIS) in Qom, Iran. In this position, Morteza arranges partnerships for students to spend time at institutions in other countries, trains the students for their international experiences, and promotes the work of the institute.
He said that he thinks ?the future of the world will be shaped by the Abrahamic religions and, therefore, we need a proper understanding of and cooperation with each other to make this future as bright and peaceful as possible. ?
?Dialogue and proper relations are in need of two basic things: a good level of knowledge about the other party and also competence and skills in dialogue,? he said.
He came to Hartford Seminary, which has a focus on dialogue among the Abrahamic religions, because it is important ?to have a first-hand experience of living in a different religious environment.?
?Indeed,? he said, ?this would be a practical example of practicing cooperation and social engagement. In my opinion learning how to relate to people is very important in interreligious understanding.”
Prior to coming to Hartford, Morteza participated in an International Catholic-Muslim interfaith conference in Rome in 2011; the fifth round of dialogue between Iranian Muslims and Filipino Catholics, held in Qom in April; and a conference on ethical values between the Center for Interreligious Dialogue and the Armenian Orthodox Church, Catholicosate of Cilicia, in Tehran in May.
Morteza also has traveled to Tanzania to offer classes about Islamic ethics, beliefs and spirituality, and conducted workshops in England about social ethics. He had a radio program on ?Spirituality in the Modern World.?
When he returns to Iran, Morteza expects to continue working at the International Institute for Islamic Studies. It can have a major impact, he said, through its efforts to promote an understanding of the true nature of Islam and the desire for peaceful relations.
Zulu, who is from Nagaland in India, has degrees from several colleges in India: a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fazl Ali College, a Bachelor of Divinity from Eastern Theological College, and a Master of Arts in Theology from United Theological College. He has been a part-time lecturer at Clark Theological College in his home province of Nagaland and was Headmaster at Poakkoam English School for two years.
Zulu said he decided to study at the Seminary because of its commitment to allow all faiths to study together peacefully. He also praised the quality of the faculty, the housing on campus, and the library.
As an IPP student, he said, ?I want to learn skills, including psychological and technical aspects, in peacemaking, techniques to apply the skills, and resources from different traditions.?
?Some of the skills that I imagine I will learn at Hartford Seminary and use on my return to my country are: Dialogue tools and meeting formats that support creative conversations, the importance of asking good questions; and the elements of good dialogue – listening, respecting, voicing and suspending judgment,? Zulu said.
He also expects to learn how to create safe environments for difficult conversations; deal with difference, disagreement and tension; maximize involvement; and create inclusive space.
?Each person should learn to deal with others from a position of mutual trust, based on an expectation that others come to the dialogue in a spirit of honesty and sincerity,? Zulu said.
When he returns to India, Zulu expects to work in a part of the country with religious tension, determined by his church.
During their time in Hartford, the two students will be part of the community at two local faith communities ? Zulu at Rocky Hill Congregational Church in Rocky Hill, CT, and Morteza at the Jafaria Association of Connecticut in Middlefield.