Posted January 17, 2008

Temple University receives gifts to support interfaith dialogue and Islamic studies


An oil and alternative-energy executive with a lifelong interest in faith and religious study has given two commitments totaling $1.8 million to the College of Liberal Arts at Temple University to support professorial chairs in interfaith dialogue and in Islamic studies.

Harry Halloran, a one-time Roman Catholic seminarian who has a master’s degree in theology and is chairman and CEO of the Pennsylvania-based American Refining Group, awarded the gifts to Temple through his philanthropic organization, the Enlightened World Foundation.

The first gift, for $1.5 million, will honor two scholars by creating the Leonard and Arlene Swidler Chair of Interreligious Dialogue at Temple. Leonard Swidler has been a Temple professor since 1966 and is a leading expert in ecumenism; Arlene Swidler has taught courses in the fields of literature, women’s studies and religion at a half-dozen universities, including Temple.

The second gift from Halloran, for $300,000, is a challenge grant toward raising a total of $1.5 million to create a chair in Islamic studies.

“An ecumenical approach to religion and a deeper dialogue among peoples of different faiths are keys to reducing conflict around the world and to alleviating poverty, hunger and disease,” said Halloran. “We also must improve Western understanding of Islam to promote peaceful co-existence among Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. Temple’s Department of Religion already is a leader in this work, and it is gratifying to be able to honor significant scholars such as Leonard and Arlene Swidler.”

The holder of the Swidler Chair will be a distinguished scholar of one of the world’s major religious traditions and will edit the Journal of Ecumenical Studies at Temple, which explores ecumenical and interreligious dialogue and provides a basis for cross-cultural understanding and interfaith exploration. Halloran is a member of the journal’s board.

“We are honored to receive these gifts,” said Temple President Ann Weaver Hart. “We have outstanding faculty who study the roles and effects of religion in the modern world. Mr. Halloran’s gift will help us advance interreligious dialogue and strengthen Temple’s scholarly leadership in Islamic Studies.”

Teresa Scott Soufas, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, added: “Temple was one of the first public universities to establish a department of religion. Our program has always been global in its scope and these gifts will expand that reach.”

The two gifts are part of an ongoing, $350 million campaign at Temple to support scholarship, student aid, facilities, research and community outreach. As of Dec. 31, 2007, Temple has raised $271 million toward that goal. The campaign will conclude in 2009 when Temple University celebrates its 125th anniversary.