Most of the work on the conference theme is done in Working Groups, to which full members are expected to contribute a paper. Here are the six Working Groups, with several suggested research trajectories listed in each case. These suggestions are meant to prime the pump, not restrict the potential research topics that might be proposed or accepted.
1. Biblical Studies
In what ways do the scriptures represent God’s people as relating to communities outside of Judaism and Christianity? How do the Old and New Testament scriptures represent Jews and Christians relating to followers of other religious beliefs (e.g., Paul’s claims in Acts 17:23 that some Athenians worshiped the one God as agnosto theo, an “unknown god”)? How do they represent Jews or Christians relating to governmental groups or non-governmental groups that might have similar ends (e.g., Philippians 4:2, “those of the emperor’s household”)? In what ways do the scriptures represent God as relating to all created beings (e.g., John 1:9, Christ as “The true light which enlightens everyone”)? How do newer ways of understanding the Christian scriptures (e.g., liberationist, feminist, womanist, and postcolonial methods) open up new ways to understand how Christian communities can relate to the world beyond Christianity?
2. Wesley and Methodist Historical Studies
How have Methodists from the Wesley age to the present related to persons of other religious faiths, to persons with no traditional religious faith, and with secular institutions and movements? Do John Wesley’s reflections on the native peoples of North America, Africa, and Asia through the course of his life provide positive resources for Christian relationships with non-Christian peoples? Has the Wesleyan understanding of prevenient grace served to open up avenues for inter-religious dialogue? How have Methodist missionary enterprises represented and communicated with persons from other religious traditions and other cultures? In what ways have Methodist communities attempted to relate to secular modern (including Modernist and post-modern) cultures? How have Wesleyan and Methodist groups in the past related to governmental and non-governmental groups in seeking common goals shared beyond Christian communities (e.g., the Abolitionist, Prohibition, and Civil Rights movements)?
3. Theology and Ethics
What are the theological grounds for Christian (including Wesleyan and Methodist) engagement with persons, communities, and structures of other religious faiths or no religious affiliation today? What theological loci are of most significance for this engagement, or stand most in need of rethinking in light of it? How do contemporary theological perspectives (liberationist, feminist, womanist, postmodern, and postcolonial perspectives, to name a few) challenge conventional Wesleyan approaches to dealing with persons and communities beyond Christianity? How has Christian engagement with non-Christian communities challenged Christian ethical and moral presuppositions? How should Christians engage with non-Christian communities in facing contemporary ethical and moral issues? How can Christians maintain authentic Christian beliefs and practices at the same time as they relate constructively to non-Christian persons and communities? Overall, how is the system of Christian faith and practice affected when we take seriously concern about our neighbors who do not share our faith?
4. Ecumenical and Interreligious Studies
In what ways have issues about the relationship between Christians and non-Christians become church-dividing issues (i.e., issues within and between Christian communities) in recent decades? How have Methodist and Wesleyan communities engaged in dialogues with non-Christian groups themselves and as they participate in ecumenical Christian groups that relate to non-Christian groups? Do Wesleyan theological or ethical traditions offer any distinctive resources to contemporary efforts at relating constructively to persons and communities beyond Christianity? How does the specific context in which a church finds itself (as a minority religion, as the majority faith, or in a quite pluralistic context) shape its interactions with other Christian churches or with other religions?
5. Mission – Witness and Engagement
How do we think about or evaluate Methodist mission efforts (both local and trans-cultural) in the past? To what extent have the efforts of specific missionaries and mission-sending groups differed from each other in their approaches to non-Christian peoples? How can contemporary Wesleyan Christians remain faithful to our own Christian beliefs and practices while engaging non-Christians seriously and constructively? How have Wesleyan and Methodist “mission infrastructures” (schools, hospitals, universities, etc.) served broader than Christian communities, and to what extent should we be concerned that these infrastructures remain distinctly Christian and specifically Wesleyan and/or Methodist? To what extent do Wesleyan and Methodist mission infrastructures today serve the needs of other Christian groups—e.g., do conservative Evangelical and Pentecostal groups utilize Methodist (and Presbyterian, and Lutheran, and Anglican, etc.) mission infrastructures in their own mission efforts, and how should we relate to them?
6. Practical Theology, Worship, and Spirituality
How do we reflect critically on Christian practices in contemporary contexts where we are consistently with persons and communities who do not share Christian beliefs? Can Christians worship together with Jews, Muslims, and others and remain true to distinctively Christian teachings and practices? How? How can we pray in public occasions (e.g., public ceremonies, governmental occasions, school and educational occasions, sports events) where we are in the presence of non-Christians and persons who are not religious or observant in any traditional ways? How can Christian spiritual practices engage with spiritual practices of non-Christian communities? How can we as Christians learn from the spiritual practices of other communities, and what do we have to offer them?