Dr. Sandra Keating, a professor of theology at Providence College in Rhode Island, talks about her studies at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies and tells lay women, "Do not hesitate! ... Find your vocation and the doors will open for you."
What was your area of study and which pontifical university did you choose and why?
I studied at the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI), which taught both Arabic and a theological approach to Islam from a Catholic perspective. The greatest challenge was language preparation. At PISAI, we used English, French, Arabic and some Italian. It was a lot of work, but ultimately it gave me access to a wider range of research materials than if I had studied elsewhere.
What opportunities did your studies offer and how are your studies at the pontifical university related to the work you do today?
In the early 1990s, PISAI was one of the only places in the world where I could study Arabic and Muslim-Christian relations and history from a religious perspective. I was fortunate enough to hear about it and The Lay Centre from a close friend. My experience has had a tremendous impact on how I think about the universality of the Church, as well as my particular field of interreligious dialogue. Through The Lay Centre and PISAI, I was able to meet people from around the globe who shared my interests and who were actively involved in dialogue. This has been invaluable for my own participation in dialogue and teaching.
What advice would you give lay women who would like to study in Rome?
Do not hesitate! I think lay women can often feel like outsiders because we are outside the seminary culture. However, there are many important opportunities for lay women and we need to be a continual presence in the classroom, in publishing, and in our contributions to every aspect of the Church. Find your vocation and the doors will open for you.
How did your studies help you to become more able to serve the Church and society?
Perhaps the most important aspect of my studies in Rome was coming into contact with Catholics and others from all over the world. One can truly experience the universality of the Church in Rome. The possibilities for deepening one’s understanding and appreciation of the unity and differences within the Church are present at every turn. I began to see my own local parish and diocese within the larger worldwide context and to regard the mission of the Church from this perspective. I don’t think I could have learned this so well any other way.
What do you think is an issue of most pressing concern in your area of study or of your profession?
I think the most pressing concern in the area of relations between Muslims and Catholics is a re-evaluation of our goals for the 21st century. Many of the goals of the past 50 years have been met, with ongoing dialogues established, common documents and strategies developed and widespread recognition of the importance of good relations among the religions. But this is only the foundation for what the fathers of the Second Vatican Council envisioned. Now it is time to build on this groundwork to confront the tensions and conflicts that still exist between our two communities.
What, in your opinion, is the importance of the role of laity in the Church at a decisional level?
The Church cannot make good decisions and carry out its Christ-given mission without a deep understanding of the gifts and needs of all its members. In my opinion, this means there should be consultation between laity and clergy at every level of the hierarchy and contributions to the decision-making where appropriate.
Dr. Sandra Keating teaches and publishes in the area of comparative religion with an emphasis on Catholic-Muslim relations, particularly theological exchange in the early medieval period, at Providence College in Rhode Island. She was a member of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with Muslims, from 2005 to 2012. She is a member of the USCCB Mid-Atlantic dialogue and regularly participates in Catholic-Muslim dialogues in the United States and abroad. She serves on several editorial boards and boards of directors, lectures frequently on Muslim-Christian relations and consults in the field. She lives with her husband, many pets and college-aged children in Providence.
Photo courtesy Dr. Sandra Keating.