Philip A. Cunningham
Professor of Theology; Director, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations
Areas Taught: Religious Studies, Theology
Expertise: Christian-Jewish Relations, Interreligious Dialogue, Biblical Studies, Religious Education
Building Religious Understanding between Christians and Jews
In the last fifty years, profound lines of communication have emerged between Christians and Jews – an unprecedented development in more than 2,000 years, according to internationally known theologian Philip A. Cunningham, Ph.D. That dialogue has led to greater understanding between and within these two major religions that share a unique history, laced, at times, with animosity.
“We’re living in a world that’s growing smaller and some of the conflicts in our world are religious,” says the director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University, whose activities are expanding under his leadership. “If Christians and Jews are able to experience rapprochement, that’s a sign of hope for all interreligious encounters.”
Recently elected President of the International Council of Christians and Jews, Cunningham is particularly interested in developing Catholic theologies of the church’s relationship to the Jewish people that affirm Judaism’s covenantal life with God. He has completed work on his new book, Seeking Shalom: The Journey to Right Relationship between Catholics and Jews, which will be published in 2015. The volume charts the story of the remarkable passage from antipathy and suspicion to a new, mutually enriching relationship between two ancient traditions, Judaism and Catholicism.
In a previous and widely praised book he co-edited, Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships, Cunningham, along with colleagues from several nations, explored this crucial theological question: “How do Catholics affirm both that Jews are in a covenant with a saving God and that Jesus Christ is the Savior of everyone?” He also has co-edited The Catholic Church and the Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome, and edited Pondering the Passion: What’s at Stake for Christians and Jews?, among numerous other books.
A former Catholic schoolteacher and adult education director, Cunningham has a strong interest in religious education and the passing on of religious traditions within communities. He also specializes in the interpretation of the Bible and how scriptures are drawn upon across several religious traditions.
Experienced with the media, he has weighed in on controversies such as Mel Gibson’s 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ and the beatification of Pius XII, who has been accused of insufficient opposition to the Nazi genocide of Jews. Cunningham has done interviews with NPR, the Associated Press, ABC News and the Newshour with Jim Lehrer. He also writes opinion pieces for the Huffington Post and Jewish Exponent, and speaks frequently at churches and synagogues.
Cunningham also serves as the secretary-treasurer for the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations and manages its vast online resource library at dialogika.us . He has been a member of the Advisory Committee for Catholic-Jewish Relations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a delegate for the Vatican at international conferences on relations between Christians and Jews.