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2004 - Jonathan Sacks

"The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations"

Dec. 2, 2003

sacks_thumb.jpg“For too long, the pages of history have been stained by blood shed in the name of God,” states London's Chief Rabbi, Professor Jonathan Sacks, in his book, “The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations.” “Allied to weapons of mass destruction, extremist religious attitudes threaten the very security of life on earth. In our interconnected world, we must learn to feel enlarged, not threatened, by difference.”

The book, which Sacks describes as “a plea – the most forceful I could make – for tolerance in an age of extremism,” has led to his selection as winner of the 2004 Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion.

In his book, first published in 2002 and recently revised and published by Continuum ( London ) in 2003, Sacks demonstrates how religion may function constructively to promote global peace. It is precisely this practical aspect that attracted the attention of this year's final-selection committee.

“The Dignity of Difference” is about globalization. It argues that the economics and politics of globalization have an inescapable moral dimension, which places great responsibility on the world's religious communities. According to Sacks, such communities have emerged in the 21 st century as key forces in a global age. But in order to be forces for peace, such communities must move beyond mere appreciation and respect for difference, beyond the temptation toward uniformity. Religious communities must recognize that difference is part of God's design. Sacks' book “provides a theology of difference.”

“Sacks argues that as long as we see ‘the other' (those who are not like us) as a threat to our beliefs and way of life, we are headed for doom,” says Susan R. Garrett, professor of New Testament at Louisville Seminary and coordinator of the Grawemeyer Award in Religion. “Sacks makes a biblical and theological case for valuing difference, petitioning us to look upon ‘the other' as enriching the collective heritage of humankind.”

About Jonathan Sacks

Professor Jonathan Sacks has become widely recognized as one of the world's leading contemporary exponents of Judaism.

Sacks, who lives in London, has been Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth since 1991. He has a distinguished career also outside the Jewish community as a writer and broadcaster and is often a contributor to radio, television, and the national press. In 2001, the Archbishop of Canterbury conferred upon him the Doctorate of Divinity in recognition of his first ten years as Chief Rabbi.

Prior to becoming Chief Rabbi, Sacks was principal of Jews' College, the oldest rabbinical seminary, and rabbi of the Golders Green and Marble Arch Synagogues, all in London.

He has taught in numerous graduate studies programs in London and Jerusalem and is currently visiting professor of theology at Kings' College. In 12 years, Rabbi Sacks has written 13 books, five of which have been serialized in the national British Press.

The London Times called his “The Politics of Hope” (1997, 2000) “a remarkable book…which deserves to become a key text.” The Daily Telegraph wrote of “The Dignity of Difference” that it “stands far above other books about globalization and the so-called clash of civilizations, both for what it has to say and for the grace with which it says it.”

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