With a great deal of pride and excitement, The Brehm Center of Fuller Theological Seminary hosted an advance screening of the new documentary – “(un)Common Sounds: Songs for Peace and Reconciliation Among Muslims and Christians” – on Friday night, April 19, 2013 in the Travis Auditorium. The highly anticipated film, sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation, was five years in the making, recording the effort to bring together Muslim and Christian scholars, musicians, and ethnomusicologists to explore the contribution of music and the arts in building sustainable peace.
An appreciative crowd of about 100 people enjoyed an evening of festivities that commenced with a welcome by Dr. Roberta King, Associate Professor of Communication and Ethnomusicology at Fuller Seminary, and the lead investigator of the project. Dr. King introduced a number of luminaries in the audience including Dr. Craig Detweiler of Pepperdine University, who directed and produced the film. At the conclusion of the screening, a panel discussion was conducted by Dr. William Dyrness of Fuller Seminary, featuring Dr. Scott Sundquist (Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies at Fuller), Mr. Shakeel Syed (Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council), and the aforementioned Dr. King and Dr. Detweiler. An audience Q&A followed, and then a light reception closed out the evening.
As Dr. King noted in both the film and panel discussion, this project tested the hypothesis that a shared experience such as music-making can be the kind of liminal space needed for inter-faith dialogue and peace-making. Passions often run deep on both sides of the religious divide, and the need to find some common ground upon which the conversation can begin only deepens when violent events, like this past week’s bombing at the Boston marathon, occur. Through a series of colloquiums and concerts in Lebanon and Indonesia, Dr. King and her research associate, Dr. Sooi Ling Tan, found the subject of music and the act of music-making to be a useful bridge between those otherwise estranged by language, culture, and ideology. As Dr. Detweiler confirmed, music and the arts became a new way for those involved to begin thinking differently about one another, and ultimately, to begin caring for another.
Mr. Syed affirmed the process, stating that music allows strangers to move quite quickly from a posture or stance of exclusivity to movement toward one another. In so doing, music provides a third space away from religious pressure points where people can become comfortable with one another and begin to accept the differences that exist between them. In this, he noted, we are building positive momentum from a paradigm of poverty to that of generous richness.
Clearly, using a common shared experience like that documented in (un)Common Sounds is just a single step toward building a sustainable peace in our world. It is not the complete answer. But as the film demonstrates, it is a strong starting point, and provides those involved with some breathing space so the challenges can be considered and strategized. May we all continue to look for experiences that are catalysts of peace!