Located in southern California, the Claremont Lincoln University prides itself on being the first multi-religious academic institution and aspires to be a new model for theological education.
The new school offers master's programs in interreligious studies and Muslim leadership, but it also acts as a hub for its three founding institutions - the Claremont School of Theology, the Academy for Jewish Religion, California, and the Islamic Center of Southern California.
Students affiliated with each of these institutions may also take courses at the others.
The Islamic school is in its beginning stages and its founders hope to incorporate an imam-training program sometime next year.
David Lincoln, chairman of the Board of Claremont Lincoln University, and his wife, Joan, donated $50 million to see the new university come to life.
“The religions will be promoting peace in the world and not fighting each other; in a lot of places now they fight each other, and if the religions could encourage solutions to the problems then the problems would be solved and we’d all be better off.”
Rev. Jerry Campbell, president of the Claremont School of Theology, says this new approach will not only make America a safer place, but will also strengthen America’s democracy.
“If we can’t love our neighbors who are not like us, if we can’t love them being who they are, how can our country hang together?" Campbells says.
Jihad Turk, director of Religious Affairs for the Islamic Center of Southern California, believes the Claremont Lincoln University model will be particularly beneficial for Muslim-Americans.
“It will demonstrate to the world that the United States is not on a war against the Muslim world or the Islamic faith but that there is great support from private institutions from the public at large and by the government as well that recognizes that Islam and Muslims are on the side of peace,” Turk says.
The keynote speaker at the new school’s convocation was Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s Ambassador to the United States. He is an advocate of interfaith cooperation, as a counterweight to fundamentalism.
“Anyone can step into the breach and claim to be speaking for God and unless the middle ground is able to establish what is God’s purpose we will cede more and more ground to the fundamentalists,” Rasool says.
And while the Claremont Lincoln University is brand new, it is already adding to the religious traditions involved.
Earlier in the day, a ceremony celebrated a new addition - the International School of Jain Studies - which will soon offer short term exchange programs and seminars. Jain is a minority religion from India.
Campbell says Claremont Lincoln University is also currently in talks with the Bahai faith and he hopes to recruit more of the world’s religions. The goal - he says - uniting people to promote religion as a source of healing, compassion and peace.