JACKSON, Tenn. – May 10, 2010 – Union University philosophy professor Justin Barnard recently spent a week in Iran as part of an academic exchange between Christian and Muslim philosophers that he helped to organize.
“The goal was to get Christian and Muslim professional academic philosophers together in a single setting where they could host a symposium and have dialogue with a goal of mutual understanding,” said Barnard, associate professor of philosophy and director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Intellectual Discipleship.
Barnard and five other Christian philosophers from Franklin and Marshall College, Claremont McKenna College, Cornell University, Western Washington University and Biola University made the trip, which was hosted by the Institute for Humanities and Cultural Studies in Tehran, the University of Tehran and the University of Qom.
The trip was the culmination of two years of e-mail exchanges between Barnard and an Iranian philosopher. The topic for the event was religious epistemology, a field dealing with the means of knowing that God exists, what constitutes religious knowledge and under what circumstances people are justified in holding their religious beliefs.
“When we set up the conference, we recruited people on the basis of their expertise in this area and asked them to give a paper under that broad theme,” Barnard said.
Barnard and his colleagues presented papers at the University of Tehran, the University of Qom and the University of Esfahan.
“One of the challenges that we faced was both the language barrier and the differences in philosophical tradition and methodology,” Barnard said. “There are some famous Iranian philosophers who have shaped the way in which the Iranian thinkers do philosophy that are obviously different from the western tradition.”
Despite the challenges, Barnard said the trip was immensely beneficial.
“We have a better sense of the kinds of thinkers who are influential there and the kinds of philosophical modes of discourse that are popular over there,” he said. “The biggest benefit for me was better understanding of what the reality of life is like there, not only for ordinary Iranian citizens, but for the academic culture more broadly. Iran has an incredibly rich intellectual tradition. It’s also very clear that they have a vibrant set of learning communities.”
In addition to the academic presentations, Barnard and his colleagues were hosted by several Iranian dignitaries, including Mohammed Khamenei, the brother of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatolla Ali Khamenei.