History of InterReligious Understanding Program at Phillips

In 2012, Phillips Theological Seminary launched a new and engaging educational enrichment program for adult learners.  These courses were taught by religious leaders, laity, and scholars in Oklahoma who represented Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, and Native American traditions. The program was re-imagined in 2015 as an adult education/continuing education program.  Its overarching goal from the start has been to educate and enlighten individuals for life and work in increasingly multicultural and religiously diverse communities. 


Overview of Six Religious Traditions Taught 2012-2013 for the InterReligious Understanding Program

Buddhist Traditions (first offered Apr 2013)

Christian Traditions (first offered Oct-Nov 2012)

Indian Traditions (first offered Aug-Oct 2012)

Islamic Traditions (first offered Jan-Mar 2013)

Jewish Traditions (first offered Oct-Dec 2012)

Native American Traditions (first offered Aug-Sept 2012)


Buddhist Traditions
Course Instructors:  Ruben Habito, Helen Cortes, and Jacqueline Roemer

Ruben L.F. Habito:  Founding Teacher of the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas, Texas
Helen A. Cortes: Guiding Teacher of the Tulsa Zen Sangha, and an Oblate of the Osage Forest of Peace Monastery
Jacqueline Roemer: Director of Bodhicharya Oklahoma, based in Tulsa, and a Teacher of Tibetan Buddhist meditation technique

This course will constituted a study of classical and contemporary expressions of Buddhism. It introduced participants to Buddhist doctrine and to meditative practice in the Japanese Zen and Tibetan Vajrayana traditions, under the guidance of qualified teachers. The course concluded with a consideration of Buddhist prospects and tasks in North America and around the globe in the 21st Century. Goals for participants included: 

  • ability to sketch the major contours in the historical development of Buddhism globally;
  • understand the role of the Three Treasures (Buddha, Dharma, Sangha) in early Buddhist practice and explain significant differences in their interpretation;
  • outline the historical backgrounds of and contemporary developments in Zen and Tibetan Buddhism;
  • visit a Buddhist temple and converse with Buddhists about their tradition

Christian Traditions
Course Instructor:  Ellen Blue
The Rev. Dr. Ellen Blue is the Mouzon Biggs, Jr. Professor of the History of Christianity and United Methodist Studies at Phillips Theological Seminary. 

The class was intended to give persons who are not Christians a basic overview of how this religious tradition is practiced today, and also give Christians the opportunity to learn about other traditions within their own faith.  Tulsa offers a rich variety of various Christian traditions that aided in this kind of study. 

Students were introduced to the Greek Orthodox tradition with a field trip to Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Orthodox churches are constructed to highlight beautiful icons that serve as a teaching and devotional purpose. Students became acquainted with the art of iconography and its use in Christian spirituality.

The class will visited the Roman Catholic Tulsa Diocesan Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and heard the story of her appearance in the Americas in 1531. The shrine has a wonderful copy of the image of Our Lady on Juan Diego's tilma (cloak), the original of which is housed at a Basilica devoted to her in Mexico City. Tulsa has the only official shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe in mid-America.

Students also explored several Protestant expressions of Christianity. 


Hindu, Jain, and Sikh Traditions of India 
Course Instructor: Dr. N.C. Mathur

Dr. N.C. Mathur is a member of the Executive Committee and currently joint Secretary of the India Association of Greater Tulsa (IAGT). IAGT's purpose is to:
  1. altruistically promote communication and unity among people of Indian origin as well as those who have an interest in India;

  2. nurture the local community's understanding of the language, culture and customs of people of Indian origin; and

  3. provide cultural, educational, social, and charitable community services. 

India is the birthplace of Hinduism, Jainism, and Sikhism (as well as Buddhism-a separate course in this program series). Hindusm is the religion of the majority in India and Nepal, and the third largest religion in the world, following Christianity and Islam, with approximately one billion followers.  One of the oldest living religious traditions on earth, it has no specific founder or date of origin. Hindus call their religion the Sanatana Dharma, the eternal truth, or Vedic Dharma, the religion ofVedas.

During the first four weeks, the course will provide an introductory exploration of diverse Hindu religious traditions in ancient and contemporary contexts. Participants will become familiar with the religion's basic terminology, sacred literature, foundational beliefs and practices, and developmental history. They will consider India's encounter with the West, the legacy of colonialism, globalization, and social justice movements.

During the last two weeks, the course will introduce the history, texts, traditions and practices of the Jain and Sikh communities. Participants will have a special opportunity to visit the local Hindu Temple and participate as a group in India-Fest, highlighting the culture, food, art, dance, and music of India.


Islamic Traditions
Course Instructor: Imad S. Enchassi
Dr. Imad S. Enchassi is Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City and Chair of Islamic Studies at Oklahoma City University.

As a child, Enchassi was exposed to the horrors of hatred and violence when, in 1982, he witnessed the massacres of Palestinians by Christian militia in the refugee camps at Sabra and Shatila in Beirut, Lebanon. This experience inspired him to create strategies for resisting the influences of hate and extremism around the world.

Enchassi has an impressive background, with multiple degrees earned in the U.S. and four degrees in Islamic Studies from schools in Lebanon. Active in community service and human rights efforts, Enchassi is committed to education and interfaith dialogue. He writes:  "I believe that education is the remedy for all ills. I believe that education is the lamp that illuminates the way for a better and happier life. I believe that the purpose of education is to humanize all aspects of our existence. I believe that true education will empower us to eliminate the concept of the 'other' and harmonize us into one true 'human family.'"

The course will introduce participants to important classical and modern expressions of Islam through a survey of the history of the religion from its founding in the 6th Century C.E. to the current development of the Islamist movement in the 20th Century. Participants will:

  • consider the Judeo-Chrisitan roots of Islam;
  • examine popular misconceptions about Islam;
  • outline the history of Islam in the U.S., including among African Americans;
  • consider the 9/11 tragedy and its impact on the Muslim community;
  • discuss Islamaphobia and how to combat it;
  • visit a local mosque and socialize with local Muslims.

Jewish Traditions
Course Instructor: Rabbi Charles Sherman

Charles Philip Sherman is Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he served as Senior Rabbi from July 1976 to July 2013, when he retired. Rabbi Sherman is a graduate of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he received a Bachelor's and Master of Arts degree in Hebrew letters, and honorary doctorate in 1994.  For his distinguished service to the Tulsa community and especially for his outstanding leadership in the field of interreligious understanding, Rabbi Sherman was honored with a Doctor of Divinity degree from Phillips Theological Seminary in 2013. 

The Jewish people and Judaism are both a 4,000 year-old entity and contemporary religious community. This course will briefly explore highlights of the Jewish historical tradition and will emphasize how Jews today mark life cycle events and observe their holiday calendar. The rich variety of Jewish practices will be explored, as well as experiential learning opportunities provided. Participants should arrive at an understanding of how their Jewish neighbors in Oklahoma worship and practice their Judaism, and learn what many Jews believe about important issues of life in our religiously plural world.


Native American Traditions
Instructor:  Richard Grounds
Dr. Richard A. Grounds is a Yuchi/Seminole leader and scholar who received his PhD in History of Religions from Princeton Theological Seminary.

The course will be an exploration into the the resilient ancient worldviews of Native American cultures as expressed in contemporary Native American traditions through patterns of continuity and change. The survey will begin with examining language and land as foundational sources for Native American religious practice. Then, the course will consider representative religious expressions and practices, whether bounded by specific tribal contexts or pan-Indian, such as the peyote sacrament in the Native American Church. The survey will conclude with reflections on the new affirmation of Native Christianity in charismatic circles and on the facile appropriation of Native spirituality.

Phillips Theological Seminary offers Christian graduate theological education
in service of intelligent, just, and compassionate religious and civic communities. We welcome
students to a safe space for truth-seeking conversations about the Bible, Jesus, and faithful living.
Courses available on campus and online for certificate, diploma, MDiv, MAMC, MASJ, & MTS
programs, and on campus for the DMin program.

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