Graduate Theological Union

Martial Arts, Spirituality, Interfaith Vision: All of a Piece for New Student

New Students

Martial Arts, Spirituality, Interfaith Vision: All of a Piece for New Student

Walk up to a group of incoming Graduate Theological Union students and ask why they chose to study at the GTU. They’re bound to tell you one of the chief reasons is the opportunity to study in an interreligious setting and to encounter, come to understand, and learn from the “other.” Talk with them a bit and you’ll undoubtedly discover that they already bring rich and diverse backgrounds to the GTU. And that they have plans to use their ripening knowledge and practical skills to make a difference in the world.

Som PourfarzanehAll are true of Som Pourfarzaneh, who began his doctoral studies and a work-study job this fall with Munir Jiwa, Assistant Professor of Islamic Studies and director of the Center for Islamic Studies. Pourfarzaneh’s Ph.D. focus is Muslim Americans’ response to the war on terror and religious profiling.

Pourfarzaneh brings to the GTU a Master of Arts in Religious Leadership for Social Change from the GTU’s Starr King School for the Ministry, where he focused on Japanese martial arts in the context of spirituality and as a potential medium for social justice. He also brings practical experience in martial arts, which he sees as a “physical embodiment of spirituality.” Last year, he opened a martial arts school in San Francisco, where he will continue to teach in the evenings. His overarching goal is to open an interfaith spiritual community center in the Bay Area that is inclusive of many faith and spiritual traditions and that could offer Jewish, Muslim, and Christian services as well as yoga classes and Zen practice sessions —“a place with a wonderful mix of people, ideas, and faith traditions,” he says.

“Our society upholds individualism, but I think we’ve carried it to the point of exclusion, and we see people as more different than is really true.”

“Our society upholds individualism, but I think we’ve carried it to the point of exclusion, and we see people as more different than is really true. Something I’m learning is we have to express who we are and what our goals are so that others can help us with our goals. Every connection I make is important, a step toward a goal.”

Pourfarzaneh, whose parents are from Iran and who was raised Muslim, says he connects deeply with this religion. “Islamic practice feels like home, although I have parts of my spiritual practice that are from other religions, and when I go to another religious faith center, I feel the same basic force,” he says.

Dr. Jiwa, who will be supervising Pourfarzaneh’s doctoral work this year, says “Som is bringing Muslim sacred texts to life by working in the community and within an interfaith context. We’re delighted to have him.”

The GTU welcomes Som Pourfarzaneh — a student who does the GTU proud in the aspirations, experience, and vision he brings to his studies and to the world.

 

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