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Building Bridges Symposium 2016

‘Wise is he who recognises that Truth is One and one only, but wiser still the one who accepts that Truth is called by many names, and approached from myriad routes’  The Vedas

In the shadow of the charismatic atmosphere of late 1970s Iran, my interest was shifted from studying medicine to Islamic studies at the University of Tehran. Although the University had now lost a of number of its world renowned professors, such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr, under the influence of the revolution of 1979, I was privileged and must confess that I enjoyed my studies taught by some of the last remaining generation of scholars of that time, such as Fathullah Mojtabaei, Mehrdad Bahar, Mohammad Mojtahed Shabestari and Abdulkarim Soroush. When I completed my first degree in 1987 after the closure of the universities for three years due to the Revolution, I felt that I was now more or less familiar with Islam, but wanted to see what other religions were about.

I chose Comparative Religions for my Masters degree at the same University. Besides Islam, I studied Christianity, Judaism, so-called ‘Primitive Religions’ (Animism, Totemism and Naturalism), ancient European mythologies, pre-Islamic Iranian religions (Zoroastrianism, Manicheanism or Manavism, and Mazdakism) and the religions of India and the Far East, i.e. Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Taoism and Shintoism. And I wrote my dissertation on the comparative study of mysticism between the early Islam and the early Church. I completed a three-year Masters degree in 1990 feeling that all these religions are more or less saying the same things but in different names and different ways. This was enough of a conclusion for me to stop studying religions from a religious studies perspective but to continue to study religion from a social scientific outlook, so I chose James Beckford of the University of Warwick to supervise my PhD degree in the Sociology of Religion.

A three-day ‘Building Bridges Symposium’, 17-19 November, during the Scottish Interfaith Week is only our first attempt to send a message of similarity and commonality between religions with different names, rather than essential differences and inconsistencies. Due to limitations in time and space, we have restricted the Symposium to Christianity, Islam and Judaism and I wish we could have extended it to embrace other religions too. We may be able to include them in future. Let us hope so.

Dr. Hossein Godazgar