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Islamic Society of North America president Ingrid Mattson to bridge differences in religions, communities in interfaith lecture

Ingrid Mattson is many things — among them an author, advocate, professor and president — but Chautauqua Institution’s Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno has an overarching title that embodies them all: “bridge-builder.”

Mattson

“We can’t judge the depth of someone’s belief, or even our own, in many cases, but we can try to improve our encounters and our actions to the point that there is less of a disconnect between what we say we believe and how we are in the world,” Mattson told Krista Tippett in an episode of her podcast “On Being.”

Mattson, the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at Western University in Canada, will present her lecture “Be in this World as if You are a Traveler” at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 13, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture is in keeping with the Interfaith Lecture Series Week Seven theme, “The Spirituality of Us.”

It struck me, really, like a thunderbolt,” she told Tippett. “I mean, this awakening of, I would say, an almost childlike wonderment at the beauty and glory of creation, and the sense of majesty, the sense of the universe being pervaded with meaning and purpose. That’s really what the Qur’an brought to me before anything — it was this awareness of God before it gave me any specific guidelines for how I should live my life as a Muslim.”

Mattson grew up in a large Catholic family in Ontario, Canada. According to Rovegno, Catholicism has a “mystical component to it,” so the religion served as an “early foundation that opened her up.”

“I’m able to appreciate what Catholic schools gave me in terms of an education and a vision of social justice that certainly the nuns in my community had,” Mattson said in “On Being.” “So that, you know, people talk about my ability to bridge different communities.”

At the age of 23, Mattson converted to Islam. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in Islamic studies at the University of Chicago, and become a professor of Islamic studies and director of Islamic chaplaincy at Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, as well as director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations.

“Once she moved into the teachings of the Qur’an, it lifted her up to God in a way like never before,” Rovegno said. 

Her writings, both academic and public, focus primarily Qur’an interpretation, Islamic theological ethics and interfaith relations. Her 2007 book, The Story of the Qur’an, is an academic bestseller and was chosen by the United States National Endowment for the Humanities to be included in its “Bridging Cultures” program. 

To have a sense of the scripture, Mattson said she began studying the Qur’an and Arabic even before she converted, and was astounded by how the “beauty of the message came through.”

“It struck me, really, like a thunderbolt,” she told Tippett. “I mean, this awakening of, I would say, an almost childlike wonderment at the beauty and glory of creation, and the sense of majesty, the sense of the universe being pervaded with meaning and purpose. That’s really what the Qur’an brought to me before anything — it was this awareness of God before it gave me any specific guidelines for how I should live my life as a Muslim.”

In 2001, Mattson was elected vice president of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest Muslim organization in the nation. In 2006, she became the first woman, the first non-immigrant, and the first convert to serve as president of the Islamic Society, a role she said nothing could have prepared her for. 

Spending her academic career teaching Islamic Studies and interfaith relations in historically Christian institutions, Dr. Mattson draws deeply from her well of personal spirituality, of which she was aware at a very early age,” Rovegno said. “I can think of no one who can better complete our week’s conversation on spirituality.”

“I mean, how did it come to this?” she said in “On Being.” “That’s why we have to say that God has his plan and we have our plan. And that is how I look at it.”

Rovegno said she is personally indebted to Mattson for her execution of a different role: Mattson founded the first accredited graduate program for Muslim chaplains in America at Hartford Seminary, which Rovegno said “continues to bless Chautauqua.” 

“It is from that excellent program that I annually invite the male Muslim Coordinators for the Abrahamic Program for Young Adults,” which Rovegno founded and has directed since 2006.

In a week focusing on the theme “The Spirituality of Us,” Rovegno said Mattson, a “bridge-builder in interfaith relations,” is the “perfect Muslim voice.”

“Spending her academic career teaching Islamic Studies and interfaith relations in historically Christian institutions, Dr. Mattson draws deeply from her well of personal spirituality, of which she was aware at a very early age,” Rovegno said. “I can think of no one who can better complete our week’s conversation on spirituality.”

This program is made possible by the Eugene Ross McCarthy Memorial Fund.

Tags : Huron University CollegeIngrid Mattsoninterfaith lecture seriesIslamic Society of North AmericaMacdonald CenterMaureen RovegnoOn BeingThe Spirituality of Us
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The author Jamie Landers

Jamie Landers is entering her third season as a reporter for The Chautauquan Daily, covering all things music-related within the online platform. Previously, she recapped the Chautauqua Lecture Series in 2019 and the Interfaith Lecture Series in 2018. In addition, she is a rising senior at The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix, Arizona, where she most recently served as a breaking news reporter for The Arizona Republic, as well as a documentary producer for Arizona PBS.

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