By: Hannah Ward, intern at Niagara Foundation
Joining the Niagara Foundation as a guest blogger is Dr. Martin Forward. He is currently a history professor at Aurora University and an ordained British Methodist minister. He is also a member of the Niagara Foundation Advisory Board.
Forward held various roles in Cambridge which included: serving as the Academic Dean of Wesley House, being a member of the Faculty of Divinity, and working as the founding director of the Centre for Jewish Christian Relations. His interest in India led him to work for the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies in Hyderbad, India and deliver the Cambridge Teape Lectures in Delhi and Hyderabad.
As apparent by the positions he has held, Forward is an avid traveler. His experiences as a traveler are in part what led to his initial interest in interfaith dialogue.
“My dad was in the Royal Air Force for 34 years, and when I was a kid, I traveled the world. I started school in Singapore, and then I had a couple years school in Aden. In the end, I think I went to 15 different schools by the end of high school on 3 different continents. My dad was at the Arabian Peninsula during the war and again in the early 50’s, so he had friends who were Muslims. We went around for meals, and I got sucked in. I just thought it was really interesting to see all the differences in the world and fascinating. So interfaith dialogue came naturally with that kind of background.”
Forward’s experiences meeting people from different countries with diverse backgrounds led him to see the value in developing relationships between religious groups. He views the diversity in the world as a positive element that can create powerful dialogue and educational opportunities.
“I think difference is a really good thing on the whole. I like variety, but it is a puzzling thing why we are all different from one another and what level of difference might be not acceptable in religious matters.”
Forward, as the author of seven books on religion and the editor of two, views his writing as a way to puzzle through the challenges of religious diversity and find the full potential of interfaith dialogue.
“Part of the reason for writing is because I learn things as I write. I often find that if I have an itch in my head about various things, then by writing about it I find that I can answer my own questions.”
“So I tried to answer my own questions and hoped that by answering questions, convincing at least for me, I can make people start the process of answering questions themselves. I don’t think writing is necessarily me conveying information to people that they ought to hear so much as sort of exploring things together. If there are different conclusions than I’ve come to, then that is all well and good.”
Forward’s interest in sparking dialogue through his writing rather than dictating information is also apparent in his teaching style.
The students in Forward’s courses at Aurora University come from a variety of backgrounds and have different religious beliefs. Forward tries to teach his students how to have discussions with people of other faiths about possibly controversial topics.
“I try to get students talking about issues like the separation of Church and state. I tell them stories about how I’ve dealt with difference and encountered difference. I make them look at religious texts that aren’t necessarily their own.”
As a professor, Forward is actively trying to create solutions to the problems he sees in the world around him. One of the most relevant challenges he sees is the way in which people use their beliefs to negatively influence their perspective of others.
“The challenge is to make people instinctively be generous instead of narrow and judgmental and to interpret their own religion generously and openly. You know you don’t have to think of your own religion at its most narrow, divisive, and unpleasant. I think that most people these days do instinctively do that, and that is one of the nice things about working with the Niagara foundation, you meet people who do not do that.
As a blogger, Forward hopes to look into aspects of other religions from a Christian perspective, as he always finds it interesting to see his own faiths from other perspectives. We are excited to have him on board and look forward to reading his posts!