Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Newsweek Religion Editor Woodward shares insights on pilgrimage process, passing on of faith traditions

GOSHEN, Ind. – As religion editor for “Newsweek” magazine for 38 years, Kenneth Woodward’s work required him to engage in relationships with people engaged in the world’s religions – and he has been fascinated by the differences he found. “What separates the major religions of the world is more interesting and more important than what unites them,” he said. “Separation is what makes true religious conversation possible.”

Woodward shared career insights and experiences during a lecture at Goshen College on Oct. 19 as part of the Yoder Public Affairs Lecture series. Titled “Pilgrimage in an age of World Religions,” the lecture touched on the themes of personal pilgrimage and the importance of engaging other religious traditions and passing them on.

An essential part of the pilgrimage process, which Woodward described as the universal experience of moving from the places where we have grown roots to other locations, or “horizons,” is delving deep into one’s own religion. Pilgrims are on a quest for spiritual insight and understanding, and “a successful pilgrimage is the experience of darkness yielding gradually to the light,” said Woodward.

Woodward, who is Catholic, named several religious leaders – including the Dalai Lama, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thomas Merton and John Howard Yoder – as examples of “those who have truly given themselves to God in one tradition” and were therefore, he proposed, better able to appreciate those who have done the same in other religions.

Woodward contrasted these examples of devotion with his characterization of young people today, who personalize religion by picking and choosing from religious traditions that appeal to them. “They flit like butterflies from one blossom to another, sucking nectar from this and that religious tradition,” he said. Woodward said that “there are no do-it-yourself God kits,” and he challenged the audience to learn to understand and accept every part of their own religious tradition, which can then greatly inform an understanding of other religions.

Jennifer Rupp, a junior communication major from Pettisville, Ohio, attended the lecture and said, “I agree with Kenneth Woodward that I don’t think you can just come up with your own religion, but I also think that it’s important to be critical of your own religion and determine for yourself where you stand.”

Woodward also discussed how religions refer to the “other” – and dismissed the idea of the “other” as a term often used negatively towards people of a different religious tradition.

“No ‘other’ is as threatening as people who claim they are the ‘true representatives’ of your religion,” he said. It is impractical to feel threatened by another religion when most religions, such as Buddhism and Christianity, “aim at different things.”

Woodward also called attention to the importance of miracles in religious traditions. His most recent of four books is titled The Book of Miracles: The Meaning of Miracle Stories in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. “Miracle stories function as boundaries between differing religious traditions,” which “achieve definition through specific narrative traditions,” he said. He cautioned that in order to interpret a miracle, one must be familiar with the tradition in which it takes place.

During a question and answer session immediately following Woodward’s lecture, he addressed the issue of being Christ-like, sharing his belief that it goes beyond good deeds to include the practices of humility and discipline.

“We need the spirituality of the everyday,” he said.

Goshen College Professor of Bible and Religion Keith Graber-Miller, who introduced Woodward at the start of the lecture, said, “I resonated with Woodward’s appreciation for religious traditions. As commitment to particular religious traditions is lost, we also lose the strong communities that shape and form our religious character and our way of living. That ‘standing within a tradition’ is essential for continually revitalizing our faith, and for giving us a place from which we can talk with those of other faiths.”

College Mennonite Church pastor Firman Gingerich commented that “a noteworthy part of the lecture was the strong reminder for every religious group to be very clear about their own beliefs.” He especially appreciated Woodward’s critique of “borrowing from other faiths without knowing who we really are,” and echoed Woodward’s belief that you can never learn to know another religion unless you know your own inside out.

Woodward continued to share his expertise and knowledge with the Goshen College community during a convocation on Oct. 20. He spoke about his experiences as a religion writer and read from articles he had written throughout his career, in addition to sharing reflections on being raised Catholic and learning of the interconnectedness of religion and culture.

Goshen College, established in 1894, is a four-year residential Christian liberal arts college rooted in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. The college’s Christ-centered core values – passionate learning, global citizenship, compassionate peacemaking and servant-leadership – prepare students as leaders for the church and world. Recognized for its unique Study-Service Term program, Goshen has earned citations of excellence in Barron’s Best Buys in Education, “Colleges of Distinction,” “Making a Difference College Guide” and U.S.News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” edition, which named Goshen a “least debt college.” Visit


- by Melanie Histand

Editors: For more information, contact News Bureau Director Jodi H. Beyeler at (574) 535-7572 or


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