The first Uppsala Festival of Theology was held in 2008. It focused on the theme Streams of Living water. This year we held the fourth Uppsala festival of Theology under the theme Behold, I make all things new. Not everything was new, the concept of different streams continued to guide the development of the program, and this year, amongst the 13 different streams two were held in English. As part of the Human Dignity and Human Sexuality stream distinguished theologians and religious leaders from the three Abrahamic faiths were invited to first participate in a three day pre-festival dialogue, and then to participate in the panel discussion on the theme on Saturday 7th February this year.
As the discussions were to be around the way in which the sacred texts and the religious practice of Jews, Muslims and Christians respond to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), participants represented both heterosexual and homosexual sexual orientations. This was done principally to ensure that we were talk to each other, not about each other. As part of the preparation theologians from each of the Abrahamic or Monotheistic faiths were asked to develop resource packs which could be used to stimulate discussion. The resource packs were specifically designed to deal with arguments used to discriminate against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) in our faith communities, namely; it’s not in our culture, it’s not natural and it’s not scriptural. Authors were then challenged to offer a new way of looking at human sexuality through the eyes of faith.
Two eminent people had been asked to moderate the session, namely His Grace, Archbishop Emeritus Anders Wejryd and Professor Riffat Hassan. Professor Hassan, having forty years of experience in developing and teaching feminist theology from a Muslim perspective was charged with an additional responsibility; in the antagonistic environment in which many people of faith, and particularly religious leaders view LGBTI people, develop a letter, which could open the doors to dialogue.
Professor Hassan put forward two key arguments for engagement; the first was the nature of God, and the second was that sacred texts had been interpreted by men within a patriarchal setting. For an authentic reading of sacred texts this needed to be acknowledged and the voices of both women and LGBTI people needed to be heard in terms of their context and understanding. Within this the clear guideline was that our interpretation of our sacred texts must be authentic to the nature of God. According to Professor Hassan 113 of the 114 Surah’s or chapters of the Qu’ran start with the words; “In the Name of God, the Most Merciful and Gracious, the Most Compassionate and the Dispenser of Grace”. In addition to this Muslims recite this at the beginning of any important event in their daily lives. It is the key nature of God, and any interpretation of or action leading from an interpretation of the Qu’ran which does not reflect this nature of God must be seen as incorrect. Professor Hassan was at pains to show that this was not unique to the Muslims, and that the merciful and compassionate nature of God is repeated over and over again both in the Torah and the New Testament.
Of clear importance in this engagement was however the general understanding of sexuality and marriage which the various Abrahamic faiths hold. Professor Hassan pointed out that which for both Jews and Muslims there is a very strong affirmation of sexuality and of marriage this is not the case within Christianity. She hypothesized that much of the current negativity about human sexuality has effectively come into both Judaism and Islam from Christianity. Much of this is related to doctrinal teaching which has come to us from both “Doctors of the Church”, like St Augustine, and even the leaders of the reformation. Celibacy and the monastic life has been seen as the highest state of Spiritual awareness. The father of the Lutheran church, who himself had been an Augustinian Monk and then later married a nun said “No matter what praise I give to marriage, I will not concede that it is no sin.”
Human Dignity and Human Sexuality are not mutually exclusive. At least this was clear at the end of our dialogue process. Participants felt that ongoing dialogue, which included both an interfaith component as well as the voices of all affected, was critical. This was affirmed in a statement which was made. All who participated in this first engagement were greatly enriched by it. As Church of Sweden we are committed to assisting in the future of this dialogue.
For Full test of Professor Riffat Hassan’s Letter please visit