University of St. Thomas Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning

This profile was last updated in 2003

In 1969, philanthropist Jay Phillips established the Jewish Studies Chair at St. John’s University near St. Cloud, MN, the first chair in Jewish Studies to be established at a Christian university. The Center for Jewish-Christian Learning at the University of St. Thomas was established in 1985, also with support from Jay Phillips. The two centers formed a partnership in 1996 at the request of Mr. Phillips, who wanted the dialogue programs of the Center for Jewish-Christian Learning to be expanded into the St. Cloud area. These programs are now offered both in the Twin Cities and in the St. Cloud area. Both Jewish and Catholic communities currently endow the Center.

The Center sponsors various programs to encourage Jewish-Christian dialogue. A major activity of the Center is a series of programs at which Jewish, Catholic and Protestant participants discuss various topics, including how the faiths view Jesus, the Ten Commandments, issues of life and death, spirituality, politics, and the Holocaust. The Center has sponsored a impressive list of speakers, including Elie Wiesel and Lawrence and Harold Kushner. The Center also develops academic courses on topics including Judaism, Jewish ethics, the Holocaust, and Jewish-Christian relations, and sponsors a tour to the Holocaust Museum for undergraduate students. The Center is hoping to expand programs currently offered in churches and synagogues in the Twin Cities, Duluth, and northern Minnesota. The archives of the Proceedings of the Center for Jewish-Christian Learning can be found on the Center’s website. This journal was published from 1985-1996; since 1996 the Center has posted most of the essays which have resulted from their programs. The Center has published a book entitled Jews and Christians Speak of Jesus, and hopes to add more publications in the future. The Center’s scholar-in-residence program focuses on a technique called Bibliodrama. This dialogue technique provides safe discussion ground for members of different faiths. A Bibliodrama session focuses on a specific text which the communities share in common, and encourages participants to express their diverse experiences and voices in interpreting that story. The program emphasizes imagination and creativity; the personal and emotional connection created by this approach allows people to learn from each other’s diverse perspectives without the tension which can come from discussions about law, doctrine, or theology. Bibliodrama serves as a way to communicate the work of scholars in Jewish-Christian dialogue to the broader community. An example of a Bibliodrama workshop is available on the Center’s website.

The Jay Phillips Center for Jewish-Christian Learning is committed to educating both students and the broader community about Jewish-Christian relations. The University of St. Thomas is located in the heart of St. Paul; St. John’s University is situated slightly outside of St. Cloud. As a result, the Center is working to increase student participation in programs offered at St. Thomas, where they must compete for the attention of students, and to increase community participation in programs at St. John’s, where more travel is required for community members to attend. The Center is committed to developing better understanding and appreciation between the Jewish and Christian faiths in a state in which thriving Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant communities of varying concentrations and diverse ethnic backgrounds regularly interact.