Philip Cunningham, Ph.D.
Professor of Theology; Director, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations
Flowing from the Catholic and Ignatian identity of Saint Joseph’s University, the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations seeks to increase knowledge and deepen understanding between the Jewish and Catholic communities. Established shortly after the Second Vatican Council, the Institute is inspired by the spirit of reconciliation and friendship expressed by Pope Saint John XXIII to a Jewish delegation at the Vatican: “I am Joseph, your brother!” (Genesis 45:4). The transformation in relations between Jews and Catholics that has unfolded since the Shoah (Holocaust) and the Second Vatican Council has given rise to questions rarely considered since New Testament times. Recognizing that their interrelationship touches on the respective identities of the Jewish and Catholic communities, and keenly aware of the long history of theological antipathy between them, the institute is committed to academic research and education in Christian-Jewish and especially Catholic-Jewish relations.
The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations of Saint Joseph’s University came into being as a result of a major transformation that occurred in the Roman Catholic Church during the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). Just two years later in 1967, the Jewish-Catholic Institute was founded at Saint Joseph’s College. It is the oldest university center or institute dedicated to Catholic-Jewish relations that was established in the United States in response to the Second Vatican Council. For over four decades, guided by the Rev. Donald Clifford, S.J. and with the aid of Charles Kahn, Jr., the Institute pursued the mission of increasing knowledge and deepening understanding between the Jewish and Catholic communities.
In 2008, Saint Joseph’s University redefined the Institute’s directorship as a senior faculty appointment in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and in 2013 it appointed as assistant director the department’s Jewish Studies professor. The Institute is thus among very few institutions with both Jewish and Catholic experts serving full-time to promote understanding between the two faith communities. In all its activities, the Institute promotes opportunities for Christians and Jews to be study partners, teaching and learning about themselves and each other by studying and experiencing texts, rituals, events and places.
In 2015, this vision was enshrined in a sculpture by artist Joshua Koffman to celebrate the golden jubilee of the Second Vatican Council and the mission of the Institute. The longtime friend of Pope Francis, fellow Argentine Rabbi Abraham Skorka, was the keynote speaker at the dedication of “Synagoga and Ecclesia in Our Time” at the Chapel of Saint Joseph on Sept. 25. Two days later, Pope Francis himself came to the campus. Embracing his friend, Rabbi Skorka observed of the female figures that symbolize Synagogue and Church: “They are you and I — Pope and Rabbi learning from one another.” After praying for a few moments, the Holy Father blessed the sculpture and the Institute’s mission.
The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations is directed by two professors in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, both with expertise in the theological and historical relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities. They teach courses on the subject in the department, cooperate in writing and research, oversee the activities of the institute and coordinate its several national and international collaborations.
Professor of Theology; Director, Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations
Associate Professor and Associate Director of the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations
Administrative Assistant, Departments of Theology and Religious Studies and Modern and Classical Languages
The Board of Directors at the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations is an advisory body that assists in fulfilling the institute’s mission. It consists of about twenty-five members with roughly an equal number of Christians and Jews. Board members are from the greater Delaware Valley community, together with some members from Saint Joseph’s University. Some board members represent local institutions, while others serve out of their personal dedication to Christian-Jewish rapprochement. Board members are encouraged to enthusiastically promote the institute’s mission, programs, strengths and successes to friends, colleagues and associates, and to attend institute events whenever possible.
The institute sponsors or cosponsors numerous educational and dialogical opportunities throughout the academic year that are open to Saint Joseph's and the wider community. These programs feature leading scholars in fields related to Christian-Jewish relations. Among the diverse topics that have been presented are:
The Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations is dedicated to providing opportunities for Jews and Christians to be "study partners." For this reason, and in cooperation with the Department of Theology and Religious Studies and Saint Joseph's University's honors program, many courses are team-taught by a Christian and a Jewish professor (asterisked below), who collaborate in exploring the relationship between Judaism and Christianity together with students. In the words of Pope Francis, "The witness of Jewish and Catholic instructors who teach together is worth more than many speeches" (Feb. 28, 2019).
The institute has long-standing collaborative relationships with many organizations devoted to interfaith relations, including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, the Consortium of Holocaust Educators of Greater Philadelphia, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania, the Jewish Christian Studies Program at Gratz College and VAAD, the Board of Rabbis. It also enjoys strong ties with several synagogue congregations near Saint Joseph's campus. In the photo above, the institute hosts a dialogue called "Friends in Faith" between high school students from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy and Pope John Paul II High School.
The institute directors publish regularly in the field of Christian-Jewish relations, including in popular, ecclesiastical, Jewish or scholarly books and articles. These include periodicals or journals such as America, The Christian Century, Commonweal, Crosscurrents, Horizons, The Jewish Daily Forward, The Jewish Exponent, The Journal of Ecumenical Studies, and Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations, in addition to contributing frequently to books of collected essays. Their individual writing and research is regularly enriched by their joint study sessions.
The institute has been a co-sponsor of a number of international research studies. One project with several other universities produced the important collection, Christ Jesus and the Jewish People Today: New Explorations of Theological Interrelationships (Eerdmans, 2011). It explores how Christians today can affirm both that Christ Jesus is the Savior of all humanity and that the Jewish people covenant with a saving God.
More recently, it helped produce Enabling Dialogue about the Land: A Resource Book for Jews and Christians (Paulist Press/Stimulus Books, 2020), funded primarily by the International Council of Christians and Jews. This volume provides materials for use by congregational dialogue groups to engage in constructive conversation about Israeli-Palestinian issues.
Currently, the Institute is planning a multi-year research project with the Cardinal Bea Centre for Judaic Studies in Rome entitled, “Christ Jesus the Jew,” which will study the religious meaning of the Jewish identity of Jesus for Christians and Jews today and for their interrelationship.
In addition, institute directors Philip Cunningham and Adam Gregerman are committed to the work of the Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, with Cunningham managing its documentary website, Dialogika, and Gregerman serving as vice-chair and reviews editor for its online journal, Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations. Both are also involved in different ongoing national Christian-Jewish dialogues.
The ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians (and neighboring states) is arguably the most intractable and complex dispute in the world. Conversations about it regularly invoke highly charged terms such as survival, catastrophe, genocide, apartheid, antisemitism and racism. Even in interfaith dialogues that have been underway for decades, talking about the conflict risks generating only angry exchanges.
Saint Joseph’s University’s fundamental goals include the pursuit of truth, the transmission of knowledge and the development of students for the purpose of promoting the common good. In the pursuit of truth and the acquisition of new knowledge, the University examines reality from a wide range of perspectives. The responsible consideration of diverse perspectives requires us always to strive for presentations that fairly present the different sides of an issue, that acknowledge the weaknesses of an argument, wherever appropriate, and that invite genuine dialogue.
In keeping with the mission and fundamental values of Saint Joseph’s University and the Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations, we establish these principles for Institute programming on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.