Beacon Press: Reading Guide: The Tent of Abraham
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Reading Guide: The Tent of Abraham

The Tent of Abraham: Stories of Hope and Peace for Jews, Christians, and Muslims by Joan Chittister, Saadi Shakur Chisti, and Arthur Waskow
Binding Information: Paperback 
Price: $15.00

About the Book

In recent years there has been an explosion of curiosity and debate about Islam and the role of religion on the global stage. The debates bring up questions of politics, history, and global security, but virtually no one speaks to the heart and the spirit. In fact, across the world, millions of people experience and consider these important issues not as political, economic, or even intellectual questions but rather as questions of deep spiritual, emotional, and religious significance.

The Tent of Abraham provides readers with stories that can bring all the faiths together. Written by three religious leaders, from the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faiths, the book explores in accessible language the mythic quality and the teachings of reconciliation that are embedded in the Torah, the Quran, and the Bible. It also employs the story of Abraham from all three of these sacred texts to weave together the wisdoms of these religious traditions into a deeper, more unified whole.

The Tent of Abraham is the first book to tell the story of Abraham as found in Jewish, Muslim, and Christian sources and to reenergize it as a basis for peace.

About the Authors

Joan Chittister, OSB, has been one of the Catholic Church's key visionary voices and spiritual leaders for more than thirty years. A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, Chittister is an award-winning and best-selling author and a well-known international lecturer on behalf of peace, human rights, women's issues, and contemporary religious life and spirituality. Her recent books include Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope, and Called to Question.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is the founder and director of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a prophetic voice in Jewish, multireligious, and American life that brings ancient and modern wisdom to bear on seeking peace, pursuing justice, healing the earth, and celebrating community. His books include Godwrestling—Round 2, Seasons of Our Joy, and Down-to-Earth Judaism.

Murshid Saadi Shakur Chishti (Neil Douglas-Klotz) is a world-renowned scholar in religious studies, spirituality, and psychology. He is the director of the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning in Scotland, cofounder of the Edinburgh Festival of Middle Eastern Spirituality and Peace, and the author of many books, including The Sufi Book of Life.

Karen Armstrong is the best-selling author of A History of God, Islam: A Short History, and The Battle for God, among other books.

Praise for The Tent of Abraham

"Delicate in telling but bold in message, the book encourages every reader to take an inner pilgrimage to understand better others' viewpoints." Library Journal, starred review

"This book will open your eyes to the possibilities of collaborative work between our traditions, and is a must read for those doing interfaith peacework." Tikkun

"The stories of our common ancestors, told in this book with such creative imagination, inspire all of us to build community across the walls that normally divide us. This book is an inspiration." —Bob Edgar, general secretary, National Council of Churches

"We have seen all too much evidence of how the three Western faiths can be used to foment hatred and bloodshed. People really must read this book, for the choice of interpreting our three faiths as the grounds for war or for peace is nothing less than a choice between life and death." —Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, University of Judaism

"When we share our spiritual journeys, even when the stories of our lives are different from each other, we often find their source in the Compassionate One who calls on us to be compassionate. So it is when we share the stories of our great family, the Family of Abraham, peace be upon him. This book shares our different stories in ways that beckon us toward peace and toward the One." —Sayyid M. Syeed, Ph.D., Secretary General, Islamic Society of North America

"Want an antidote to tragic headlines about religious conflict in the Middle East? Try this remarkable new book. [A] celebration of religious diversity that is likely to leave readers more optimistic about the potential for peace." —David Crumm, Detroit Free Press

Questions for Discussion

Read pp. 3-27, 191-196, and pp.207-218.

  1. Compare the two versions of the story of the families of Abraham. What are your reactions to each? Do you feel drawn to asserting that one version must be true and the other false?
  2. Is it possible that each story shows partial truths, each adding perspective to the other and to the nature of human relationships overall? Can a single coherent story be created using details from each?
  3. After reading the final essay in the book "Why Hagar Left," which introduces a different stance entirely, what do you consider to be the truth?
  4. Try reading the stories with people of a different religion. How do your reactions differ? How are they the same?
  5. Now read the stories with people from your same religion. Do you still find a variety of perspectives or do you all feel the same?

For the essays on pp. 29-78.

  1. What issues are raised for you by this essay? Are your ideas about sibling rivalry and cooperation, the effects of death on family relationships, the nature of owning land, the meaning of sacrificing what we hold most dear, or other life-questions, affected by reading this essay?
  2. Do these ancient stories apply to conflicts in the modern world, such as that between the Israelis and the Palestinians, or are they irrelevant?

For the essays on pp. 79-124.

  1. What do you think of the reports of cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian women? Can an analogy be drawn between the stories of war-fighting and peacemaking in the Bible's Abrahamic saga and those processes today?
  2. Imagine yourself in conversation with people from a society that is in deep conflict with your own. Who would set it up? What would you want to say? What goals would you have for the first meeting? The tenth?

For the essays from pp. 80-124.

  1. Did you find these essay's efforts to take public and interpersonal events and translate them into inner spiritual and emotional processes effective?
  2. Can you imagine new ceremonies, celebrations, or forms of prayer and meditation being created from these stories?
  3. Would it make sense to draw from these psycho-spiritual lessons to make new patterns in our national and political lives?

For the essay on pp. 183-190.

  1. Would you be interested on organizing a "Tent of Peace" as it is described in the essay? What changes would you make? Do you know people who would join in an Abrahamic invitation?
  2. Are there public actions - e.g. a statement or action on war and peace, an interreligious action on the global climate crisis, a program for shared observance of sacred seasons or for shared interreligious study of these or other sacred texts or shared prayer services or shared community-service projects - that you feel drawn to do after reading the book?