Episcopal Life Online
[VTS] Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) welcomed its first Muslim exchange student, Salih Sayilgan, on August 20 as part of its continuing effort to encourage deeper cross-cultural conversations within the VTS community and equip students to envision new and creative ways to undertake ministry in the world.
Sayilgan’s arrival marks a new relationship between the Seminary and the Istanbul Foundation for Science and Culture (IFSC), a Muslim organization committed to dialogue and constructive relationships with Christians. Sayilgan, who has been a volunteer at the IFSC for the past five years, is currently working toward a master’s degree in the Sociology of Religion at the University of Sakarya, Turkey. His time at the Seminary will also build on the interreligious studies within the Washington Theological Consortium and on the work of the Rev. Dr. Rich Jones, professor of Mission and World Religions at VTS, who has taught about Islam for the past 20 years. Sayilgan’s time at VTS is being coordinated by the Seminary’s Center for Anglican Communion Studies.
“One of the Center’s goals for having interreligious leaders and scholars in its midst is to raise the interreligious consciousness of the seminary community and challenge the ways it shapes leaders for twenty-first century service in church and society,” said the Rev. Dr. Barney Hawkins, associate dean and executive director of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies.
During his semester at the Seminary, Sayilgan will take courses in Christian history, New Testament interpretation, Christian theology of other religions, and faith in the Triune God. “In the west there are many places where one can learn about Islam,” said Sayilgan. “In the east, however, there are not many places where one can immerse himself in Christianity. I am truly honored to be a part of this sacred community.”
“My prayer is that having Salih on campus will help deepen the Christian faith of our other students and that his faith will also deepen as a result of his immersion experience within an unapologetically Christian community,” said the Rev. Robin Gulick, interreligious officer of the Center for Anglican Communion Studies. “I believe this will result on both ends from the informal dialogue and conversation that will take place during his residency here.”
The Seminary will further deepen its ties to the Muslim community through the Henry Luce Foundation which, in June of 2008, awarded a three-year grant to VTS to foster understanding between Anglican and Muslim communities around the world. This grant, overseen by the Center, provides support for visiting Muslim scholars to teach at Virginia Seminary.