Working to improve mutual understanding between the Middle East and the West


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2023 Fellowship Retreat

The 2023 GIFR was held in Bensberg, Germany, and was planned and executed in collaboration with the International Center for Comparative Theology and Social Issues at the University of Bonn. The public events and Symposium, all held in Aachen, Germany, were planned and executed in collaboration with the Suermondt Ludwig Museum.

Part 1: The Retreat in Bensberg

The Retreat in Bensberg lasted for two and a half days. Every day after breakfast, participants gathered in a lecture hall where one of the convenors (Klaus von Stosch, Ali Aghaei or Joshua Ralston) provided an academic session on a topic known to the participants in advance. In the run-up to the Retreat all participants had received reading material selected by the convenors to enable them to prepare for each session. Most sessions followed a similar structure, consisting of a brief lecture, followed by questions and a general discussion. During some of the sessions, the discussion was ongoing throughout the lecture. After the first session of the day (which included a break for coffee/tea), lunch was provided, followed by another two-hour session. After the final session, there was an extended break before dinner. During this break, participants were able to continue conversations that had started during the sessions or simply spend some time getting to know each other better. The evenings (after dinner) were similarly free for the participants to spend as they wished. All meals during the Retreat were provided at the accommodation, a conference centre in Bensberg, the Thomas-Morus-Akademie.

Part 2: The Symposium in Aachen

After the final half-day in Bensberg, participants travelled by coach to the neighbouring city of Aachen. There, they first attended a reading by Navid Kermani at the Suremondt Ludwig Museum. Kermani read from his book Wonder Beyond Belief: On Christianity and the reading was followed by a discussion moderated by Professor Klaus von Stosch. After a brief break, the second public event, ‘Art as Host’, commenced. Here, three respondents, including a Bishop, a Rabbi, and an Imam, discussed one of the paintings from the museum’s collection. The painting in question depicted the circumcision of the Christ child. Afterwards Fellows were invited to join GINGKO Trustee Dr Melanie Gibson for a visit to Aachen Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the final day, those participants who had successfully submitted proposals in response to a ‘call for papers’ issued by Mohammed Gamal Abdelnour and Emmanuel Kwame Tettey – the winners of the 2021 GINGKO Fellowship Collaboration Prize – presented their research. The Symposium was convened by the two Collaboration Prize winners and each of the sessions was moderated by a representative of one of the Abrahamic faiths.

This final day gave the participants a chance to present their research and engage with the research of the other presenters. Participants were responsible for arranging their own lunch on this day (although a list of nearby places was provided). As it was Friday, all participants were able to attend Jummah Prayer at the Islamic Center Bilal Mosque. And in the evening of this final day, all participants visited the Synagogue in Aachen, where they attended Shabbat service and dinner. For many of the participants, this was their first ever visit to a synagogue.