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Lyon Professor Wins International Essay Contest

Dr. Martha Beck, Lyon College Professor of Philosophy, was recently selected as the winner of an essay contest for submissions to the first volume of Sunan Kalijaga: International Journal of Islamic Civilization. Her topic was “Weaving Together a Global Civilization that Nurtures Justice and Peace: A Vision for Muslim Educators at Indonesia's UIN Institutions.”

She will fly to Indonesia in late September to present her paper at the 66th UIN (Islamic State University) Sunan Kalijaga Anniversary Celebration.

Beck says she grew up during a time when people were torn between traditional religion and the idea of moral absolutes on the one hand vs. secular humanism and moral relativism on the other. She, however, aspired to bridge the divide in this "culture war" in the USA and Western Europe. After September 11, she wanted even more to bridge the new divide between the religions, especially between Islam and Christianity, helping create an international culture that would give all humans common ground and “create a higher level of civilization everywhere for everyone.”

During a 2012 Fulbright Teaching Fellowship to teach Western Thought at an Islamic State University in Bandung, Indonesia, she learned that Indonesian democracy is based on five foundational principles, with the most important being the belief in God. Legal or cultural discrimination based on religion, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam, and Christianity, is not permitted. 

Indonesia is the fourth largest nation in the world, with 261 million people. About 20 million are non-Muslim, about the same number are extremist Muslims who want the nation to follow Shari’a law, and the rest are Muslims committed to their country’s concept of democracy.

Last spring, Beck received a scholarship from the Islamic University in Jakarta to teach a class and collaborate with Indonesian scholars in the Faculty of Islamic Law on journal articles that would be published by international journals. Her winning paper proposed weaving together ancient Greek humanism with the realities of the 21st century, religion with current trends in the sciences, and technology with culture.

“It is an honor that the editor and his readers like my work,” said Beck, “and I hope to continue a long and fruitful dialogue with them.”