METI at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

10.29.2015 | Blair Hodges

A daughter of the Institute's Jeremy King poses in front of the booth at the Parliament of the World's Religions

Rysa King, who helped with set-up, poses in front of our booth at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

“BYU? Really? Why?” That was the most common question I heard while sitting at the Maxwell Institute’s exhibit booth during last week’s Parliament of the World’s Religions. It was usually asked with an astonished smile. At this historic gathering of people from 80 countries and 50 religions, we thought it would be best to showcase our Middle Eastern Texts Initiative. Our booth featured a banner and posters describing the series and examples of our dual-language translations of books by Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Representatives of all three traditions, and many more, stopped to talk about it, many seemed surprised when they saw “BYU” alongside “METI.” There were several ways I answered the question depending on what level of interest I could gauge from the questioner. My simplest response was to gesture to the Maxwell Institute banner which includes a quote from Doctrine & Covenants 88:118 which says:
And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.”
Latter-day Saints believe God cares for all of humanity and has distributed knowledge, truth, and wisdom throughout the earth now as in the past. It’s true that our translations serve the academy by providing scholars access to works of late antiquity. But they also preserve the religious and intellectual history of religious people and provide contemporary believers with a greater understanding of their heritage. When the first volume of METI’s Islamic Translation Series was published back in 1998, Elder Neal A. Maxwell offered this LDS perspective to a gathering which included a number of Islamic diplomats and representatives:
Light and truth need no visas to make their way in the world. Light and truth need no passport for identification. Light and truth come from God. We celebrate Him and what He has done.”
Jordanian-Ambassador

From left to right: Elder Neal A. Maxwell; Ambassador Marwan Muasher of Jordan; Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) and his wife, Landra; Elder Merrill J. Bateman, then president of BYU; and Daniel C. Peterson, founding editor of METI.

Many of the reasons BYU’s Maxwell Institute invests so much labor, time, and money into METI were expressed during that 1998 event. Former BYU President Merrill J. Bateman cited BYU’s unofficial motto “The World Is Our Campus,” noting that METI represents BYU’s “major commitment to international studies and global understanding.” ((See Kathryn Baer, “BYU translates, publishes Islamic text,Church News, Feb. 14, 1998.)) That commitment has only intensified at BYU, and METI has continued to grow over the past 17 years with the encouragement of BYU administration. Founding editor Daniel C. Peterson’s words are as true today as they were in 1998, and they’ve become even more urgent considering the events of September 11, 2001 and the rise of western Islamophobia: “Among the things most needed to increase Western appreciation and understanding of Islam are competent, trustworthy, readily available translations of Islamic texts.” ((Ibid.)) Less than ten years after that historic publication, the Maxwell Institute was founded to bring a variety of initiatives—METI included—under its umbrella. Under the direction of D. Morgan Davis, METI continues to produce competent, trustworthy, readily available translations of Islamic texts, and also texts from Christian and Jewish traditions. For the past nine years the Maxwell Institute has focused on producing outstanding scholarship for Latter-day Saints; it’s always been about more than the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies or the Mormon Studies Review. As our mission statement indicates, we undertake scholarly studies of a variety of religious traditions and texts “in order to deepen understanding and nurture discipleship among Latter-day Saints and to promote mutual respect and goodwill among people of all faiths.” By looking at many religious texts—worthwhile in their own right—we come to understand other faiths better, as well as our own. We seek wisdom from the best books. We hope to build peace and enlightenment. It was a real blessing for me to encounter so many Christians, Jews, and Muslims (not to mention people of many other faiths besides) who stopped at our booth to express wonder and appreciation for the texts the Institute works diligently to produce. I saw attitudes toward BYU and the Church lighten with gratitude. Brian Hauglid, director of our Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies, described one particularly poignant moment. As he sat tending the booth a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim imam each approached at the same moment to look at our offerings. I wish I could have seen it. I imagine them standing side by side, one looking through On Rules by Moses Maimonides, the other at Al-Ghazali’s Niche of Lights. Brian enjoyed some interfaith discussion with both of them there at the Institute’s booth. I hope you can appreciate the significance of such a peaceful moment considering all of the ongoing international turmoil. ((In recent years we’ve seem the emergence of groups promoting gatherings of rabbis and imams across the United States. See Lauren Markoe, “Can Jews and Muslims get along? 60 imams and rabbis meet in Washington to try,” Religion News Service, November 24, 2014.)) Speaking of Maimonides, volume four of his Medical Aphorisms is scheduled for release in our Middle Eastern Texts Initiative this December. More information is forthcoming.