Nineteenth Building Bridges Seminar: Naming God

Collage of Zoom screenshots of seminar participants

June 7-11, 2021
Location: Online via Zoom

Muslims and Christians would agree that God is in one sense unnameable; in another sense we would agree that God has many names. These are not names that we invent for God, however. Rather, they are names that God reveals to us: names by which we are to call upon God—names that reveal not so much what God is, but who God is, and who God is in relation to us. God cannot be constrained or contained by the names, but God can be praised by them, can be called upon in supplication, can be remembered by them for the wonderful works God has done and continues to do. Each of our traditions understands these things in its own way, yet also recognizes a certain commonality that makes our dialogue possible.

Yet, even with this shared background, when we speak to one another about the proper naming of God, points of contention soon become obvious. It was into this sensitive territory that the Building Bridges Seminar ventured when it convened for the nineteenth time since 2002. For the first time in its history, this meant several days of international Zoom calls—the online format having been necessitated by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Through plenary lectures, small group discussion, and summary reflection, participants explored three sub-themes: the naming of God in our scriptures; reflection on the nature of these names in our foundational philosophical and theological traditions; and our practice of calling on God by God’s names in communal and private prayer. In due course the proceedings of this convening will be published in book form.

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Participants