"Everything that Hashem has said we will do and we will comprehend [naaseh v'nishmah]" (Exod. 24: 7). "naaseh v'nishmah": The Israelites committed to doing before hearing [practice precedes theory] (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a).
Abrahamic theo-politics should count as both an academic and a practical discipline, but, to theorize about it, one must come to terms with its irreducibly existential - or, we should say, pneumatological - features. This theo-politics is possible only if, in fact, there are learned and observant Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholar-leaders who sit down together to ponder their scriptures and receive from them overlapping directives to act. The spirit that moves such study groups will, alone, be the direct source of Abrahamic theo-political action. Any arguments for the possibility of an Abrahamic theo-politics therefore follow from, rather than precede, the action. For the purposes of this brief essay, I hope that one illustration of the action will suffice to open readers' minds to the possibility of more.
For the past four years, a group of 20 Jewish, Muslim, and Christian scholars of scripture, philosophy, and religious politics have met together for periods of intensive study of each other's scriptural traditions. Their work has been inspired by the primary hypothesis that, contrary to the persistent assumptions of most researchers and leaders in international policy, the Abrahamic scriptural traditions are untapped resources for conflict resolution. Confirming their first hypothesis, these initial meetings have been surprisingly successful, generating joyous camaraderie and deep friendship as well as intellectual productivity. Participants have discovered that the three traditions share as many interpretive rules and strategies as they do not share, and that the closer their readings come to intimate belief in God, the more closely they seem to understand each other and the more deeply they are moved by similar passions and hopes. These discoveries have led the group to a second hypothesis: that Jewish, Muslim, and Christian clergy could also join together for successful meetings of this kind, and that such clergy could come from any part of the world. A year's successes in bringing clergy into the group's meetings has led to a third hypothesis, which defines the group's current work agenda. The hypothesis is that clerical leaders of this kind could also engage at least some of their congregants in successful sessions of Abrahamic study. A concluding, speculative hypothesis is that such sessions may generate innovative models for efforts of peacemaking that emerge from out of the indigenous religious traditions of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian peoples who are currently, or potentially, engaged in various forms of political conflict.
Now self-named the Children of Abraham Institute (CHAI), the group is currently setting up a variety of study groups - in South Africa, Singapore, the UK, and in several cities in the United States - that may test out corollaries of these hypotheses.2 They want to ask, for example, if diplomatic efforts are more lasting when they emerge from out of, or at least reinforce, practices of inquiry and of interpersonal relations that are warranted by the combatants' (or disputants') own sacred traditions. They will ask, furthermore, if, despite their differences, various Abrahamic orthodoxies display overlapping patterns of conflict resolution that are visible only when the discussants are enacting aspects of their orthodoxies rather than when, as is more typical in diplomatic efforts, they are asked to "leave their more intimate practices at the door." Assuming that significant political and social leaders are, in fact, congregants in traditional houses of worship, they will ask, finally, if, when brought by clerical leaders into extended sessions of Abrahamic study, such political and social leaders may be moved to levels of shared understanding that they could not achieve outside such sessions.
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