Religious Responses to Suffering: A Comparative Discussion

Tuesday, May 7, 7:00 p.m.,  Olin 101 








The Comparison Project 2012-2013 explored a range of religious explanations of and responses to suffering through a variety of public programing—everything from lectures on the Holocaust and the Lakota Ghost Dance, to community and Drake inter-faith dialogues, to creative non-fiction readings by Above + Beyond Cancer trekkers. Our culminating event invites three philosophers of religion, of varying methodological commitments and religious expertises, to reflect on these responses to suffering, drawing tentative comparative, explanatory, and evaluative conclusions about them.

Bradley Herling is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Marymount Manhattan College. He is the author of The German Gita: Hermeneutics and Discipline in the German Reception of Indian Thought, 1778-1831 (Routledge, 2006) and co-editor of Deliver Us From Evil (Continuum, 2009), an interdisciplinary collection of essays that examines the problem of evil and unwarranted suffering. Prof. Herling is currently working on a second edition of his textbook, A Beginner’s Guide to the Study of Religion, which will be published by Bloomsbury in 2014.

Read Bradley Herling’s Lecture

Jin Y. Park is Associate Professor of philosophy and religion at American University. Park is the author and editor of several books including Buddhism and Postmodernity: Zen, Huayan, and the Possibility of Buddhist Postmodern Ethics.

Read Jin Park’s Lecture

John J. Thatamanil is Associate Professor of Theology and World Religions at Union Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Immanent Divine: God, Creation and the Human Predicament (Fortress Press) and is currently working on a book, The Promise of Religious Diversity: Constructive Theology After Religion, that explores the meaning of the category “religion” for interreligious dialogue.

Listen to audio of the dialogue:

Buddhism and the Ethics of Memory

kopfpromopicWednesday, April 17 7:00 p.m., Olin 101

Gereon Kopf received his Ph.D. from Temple University and is currently professor of Asian and comparative religion at Luther College. As a research fellow of the Japan Foundation and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, he conducted research in 1993 and 1994 at Obirin University in Machida, Japan, and at the Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture in Nagoya, Japan, from 2002 to 2004. In the academic year of 2008-2009, he taught at the Centre of Buddhist Studies at the University of Hong Kong. He is the author of Beyond Personal Identity (2001), co-editor of Merleau-Ponty and Buddhism (2009), and editor of the Journal of Buddhist Philosophy.

The act of remembering is central to a variety of Buddhist responses to suffering, offering a foundation for responses to historical tragedies and political evil by drawing upon the relationship between the Buddhist principles of suffering, memory, and compassion. Taking various perspectives to the Nanjing massacre as its case study, Dr. Kopf’s lecture will identify and analyze four ways in which individuals and nations commemorate significant events, proposing an ethics of expression that examines the ideological, religious and moral dimensions of various remembrance practices. Ultimately it seeks to provide a theory that reveals the connections between ideological commitments, religious ritual, and moral agenda, reminding us that our self-understanding is inextricably tied to our values and
vice versa.

PowerPoint of Kopf’s lecture

Transcript of Kopf’s presentation

Listen to Kopf’s lecture:

Innovative Jewish Responses to Holocaust

Thursday, April 4 at 7:00 p.m., Olin 101 

8 September 2011, CAHS Fellows stand for their informal portraits
Photo courtesy of the USHMM

Steven T. Katz is Director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies and Chair in Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Boston University. He has also taught at Dartmouth College, Cornell University, and at numerous other universities both in the US and abroad. In addition, Dr. Katz is presently the Chair of the Holocaust Commission of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and the Academic Advisor to the Academic Working Group of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Dr. Katz has published over 100 articles in scholarly journals in the fields of Judaica, Holocaust studies, philosophy of religion, and comparative mysticism, and has lectured all over the world. In 1999 he was awarded the University of Tübingen’s Lucas Prize for Holocaust studies. And his most recent book, Wrestling with God: Jewish Theological Responses During and After the Holocaust, was selected as the runner-up for the 2007 National Jewish Book Award. He is currently the editor of the journal, Modern Judaism.

Dr. Katz’s lecture will review and critique the main Jewish theological responses to the Holocaust and the “problem of evil.” It will include six responses that are, essentially, based on the adaptation and recycling of biblical explanations as to why the righteous suffer. After this opening analysis, he will turn to the five or six responses that present a novel “modern” accounting. This second group will include the views of Richard Rubenstein, Emil Fackenheim, Eliezer Berkovitz, Ignaz Maybaum, Emanuel Levinas, and Elie Wiesel.

Listen to Katz’s lecture:

Here is the section of Dr. Katz’s “Wrestling with God” upon which his lecture drew

Above + Beyond Cancer’s Journey to the High Himalaya: Creative Nonfiction Narratives of Recovery, Discovery, and Advocacy


ABC group

Thursday, March 7 7:30 p.m. in the Cowles Library Reading Room for a creative nonfiction reading by Ruth Bachman and Andy Fleming, two member of Above + Beyond Cancer’s recent journey to the High Himalaya.

Writers will read from the creative nonfiction narratives inspired by their recent trek through the High Himalaya with Above + Beyond Cancer. These narratives are part of an ongoing Drake and Above + Beyond Cancer Community Writing Project.

This event is free and open to the public.

For more information, please contact Yasmina Madden at

Listen to audio from the presentation:

A Guide to the Supplementary Resources for 2012-2013

Below you will find supplementary resources pertinent to The Comparison Project’s 2012-2013 theme of Religious Responses to Suffering. These resources come from students in Prof. Knepper’s Fall 2012 Comparative Religions course and Spring 2013 Philosophy of Religion course. They are ordered from most recent (top) to least recent (bottom).

The Fall 2012 Comparative Religions course first examined then compared religious responses to suffering in Sikhism, Lakota traditions, and Islam. Below you will find some of their analytic and comparative papers as well as a few of their encyclopedic entries.

The Spring 2013 Philosophy of Religion first examined religious responses to suffering in Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism, then compared and evaluated religious responses to suffering in all six of the religions considered in 2012-2013. Below you will find some of their comparative-evaluative papers.


Who Ended Slavery? Secularization in Context

DrAvalosPHOTOHector Avalos, Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University

Response by Jennifer Harvey, Associate Professor of Religion, Drake University

Thursday, February 14 6:30 p.m., Olin 101

A number of prominent writers have claimed that Christian and biblical ethics were ultimately responsible for the abolition of slavery in Africa and the New World. Dr. Hector Avalos, in contrast, argues that biblical arguments against slavery began to be abandoned by abolitionists themselves because the pro-slavery side actually had an advantage in biblical support for slavery.  Thus, more secularized forms of argumentation, which rested on universalized humanitarian and legal premises, became more attractive in abolitionist movements.

Dr. Hector Avalos is Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University, where he was named Professor of the Year in 1996, and a 2003-04 Master Teacher. Born in Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Dr. Avalos received his B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona in 1982, a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School in 1985, and Ph.D. in biblical and Near Eastern Studies from Harvard in 1991. He is the author or editor of nine books, including Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence (2005), and The End of Biblical Studies (2007).

Download Prof. Avalos’s presentation

Listen to audio of Avalos’s lecture:

Religious Responses to Suffering: An Interfaith Dialogue

Thursday, November 29 at 7:00 p.m., Tifereth Israel Synagogue, 924 Polk Blvd.

The dialogue features five representatives of Des Moines area religious communities: Rabbi Steven Edelman-Blank, rabbi of the Tifereth Israel Synagogue; Howard Croweagle, American Indian advisor to the governor of Iowa and president of Central Iowa Circle of First Nations; Shuji Valdene Mintzmyer, an ordained Soto priest at the Des Moines Zen Center; Baljit Navroop, an executive member of Iowa Sikh Association; and Ako Abdul-Samad, the Iowa State Representative from the 66th District.

The topic of the dialogue, religious responses to suffering, provides for an exploration of how the religions of the world both explain and empower responses to suffering.

Listen to audio of the dialogue:

Loss and Suffering with Dignity: Abd el-Kader's Jihad with France

John Kiser, author The Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader and The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria 

Wednesday, November 14 7:00 p.m., Olin 101

el kaderJohn W. Kiser is the author of numerous books, most notably The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love and Terror in Algeria, which won the 2006 French Siloe Prize for best book on a humanistic topic, and which was the basis for the 2010 Cannes award-winning film, “Of Gods and Men;” and Commander of the Faithful: The Life and Times of Emir Abd el-Kader, which is the inspiration behind the Abdelkader Education Project and its annual Abdelkader essay contest in Elkader, Iowa.  A former international technology broker, Kiser has an M.A. from Columbia University in European History and MBA from the University of Chicago.

Kiser’s talk will review the highlights of el-Kader’s life during war, peace, imprisonment, and exile, exploring how faith and higher knowledge strengthened him as he suffered defeat, betrayal and loss. In so doing, Kiser will show how the emir’s exemplary life of faith-based moral leadership not only brought him worldwide acclaim from the likes of Abraham Lincoln, Pope Pius the IX, Queen Victoria, and Emir Shamil, but also motivated a town in northeast Iowa to adopt his name.

Kiser, Abdelkader’s Legacy talk

Listen to audio of Kiser’s lecture:

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Dancing Our Troubles Away: Native American Ways of Alleviating Suffering

PesantubbeeMichelene Pesantubbee, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and American Indian Native Studies, University of Iowa.

Thursday, October 25 7:00 p.m., Olin 101

Professor Pesantubbee is an associate professor of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa.  She earned her Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She specializes in Native American religious traditions primarily Cherokee, Choctaw, and Lakota traditions. Dr. Pesantubbee is the author of Choctaw Women in a Chaotic World and she has published several essays on Native American religious movements.

Professor Pesantubbee’s talk will examine how several Native American groups have responded to the effects of colonization by drawing on traditional dances to heal individuals and communities. She will focus primarily on Cherokee booger dances and the Lakota ghost dance as ritual means for countering despair and suffering and instilling hope and harmony.

Pesantubbee, Dancing Our Troubles Away

Listen to audio of Pesantubbee’s lecture:

Sikhism and Suffering: Understanding and Healing after the Milwaukee Massacre

Nikky photoNikky-Guninder Kaur Singh, Crawford Family Professor of Religion, Colby College

Thursday, September 27 7:00 p.m., Harvey-Ingham 104

Sikhism accepts suffering — biological, psychological, and spiritual — as a natural part of life. According to Sikh scripture, “our entire world is full of suffering” (GG, p. 954). But it also acknowledges suffering (dukh) as a medicine that is beneficial (daru). In light of the recent Milwaukee tragedy, Professor Singh will explore the Sikh understanding of suffering and its curative value for our global community.

Nikky-Guninder Kaur Singh is the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Crawford Family Professor at Colby College. She has published extensively in the field of Sikhismand her views have been aired on television and radio in America, Canada, England, India, Australia, and Bangladesh. Born in India, Professor Singh came to American to attend Stuart Hall, a Girls’ Preparatory School in Virginia. She later received her BA in Philosophy and Religion from Wellesley College, her MA from the University of Pennsylvania, and her Ph.D. from Temple University.

Singh, Sikhism and Suffering