From 29 June until 19 July 2008, the first “Vienna International Christian-Islamic Summer University” took place in Stift Altenburg, a monastery in Lower Austria. The Summer University aimed to bring together students and graduates from a number of partner institutions in Christian and Muslim countries. It evolved from the “Vienna International Christian-Islamic Round Table”, an academic initiative launched by Prof. Andreas Bsteh at the Institute for Theology of Religions in St. Gabriel. The Round Table united academics from different fields of specialisation, such as law, theology and social sciences, in order to discuss the most important questions concerning our world today, from a Christian and from a Muslim perspective. The Vienna International Christian-Islamic Summer University was founded in order to pass on this spirit of dialogue and exchange to the younger generation.
The Summer University was funded mainly by the Federal Ministry for Science and Research and the Austrian Development Agency. It took place under the auspices of University of Vienna and was organised by the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Catholic Theology.
The Summer University lasted for 3 weeks and offered 13 courses of approximately 10 hours each. The professors came from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Iran, Cameroon, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. The 33 participating students came from Austria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, India, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan und Saudi Arabia. 18 of them were Muslim, 15 Christian; 17 male and 16 female.
The programme included courses on the Introduction to Christianity and Islam, Human Rights from a Muslim and Christian Perspective, Migration in an Interconnected World, Women in Islam and Christianity, Political Violence, Poverty and Social Rights, International Law and Constitutionalism, Religion and the State as well as International Order and Religion.
Several evening events with diverse themes were organised where, for example, Nasira Iqbal spoke on the current political situation in Pakistan. Prof. Dr. Andreas Bsteh, founder and initator of the Round Table, came and chronicled 35 years of the St. Gabriel dialogue initiative.
On behalf of Abbot Christian Haidinger and the community of Stift Altenburg monastery, a summer festival took place on 4 July where noteable guests from Vienna and Lower Austria were invited to celebrate this project within the framework of the official “European Year of Intercultural Dialogue” with the participants. Cardinal Schönborn came with 20 seminarians and warmly welcomed the international guests. In his speech, he emphasised how important dialogue, respect and the mutual understanding between religions are in order to create a more peaceful and just world. Excursions to Vienna and Melk as well as collective dance, cooking and discussion evenings completed the programme.
On 18 July, the Summer University concluded with the presentation of participation certificates by Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Mettinger in the University of Vienna Catholic Faculty Dean’s Office, a visit to the UNO headquarters and an evening reception in City Hall sponsored by the mayor of Vienna.
Upon successful completion of the Summer University, the students received 6 European Credits Transfer Systems (ECTS) from the University of Vienna, which can be recognised at their respective universities.
The reaction of the participating students and professors was one of enthousiasm and praise. “Every person should have the chance to take part in such a project”, the unanimous echo.
At a ceremony at the Austrian Academy of Sciences on 25 October 2008, which celebrated the past years’ dialogue initiatives and publications and at which the Federal President Heinz Fischer, the Federal Minister for Science and Research Johannes Hahn, the Archbishop of Vienna Cardinal Schönborn and the former president of Iran, Seyyed Mohammad Khatami participated, the Summer University was also presented. On this occasion the Federal Minister announced that the Summer University will continue to be supported and should be organised again in 2010.