Princeton Seminary | Approaching Cultural Divisions with Empathy

Approaching Cultural Divisions with Empathy

MDiv candidate Amar Peterman on the radical act of the gospel of Jesus in our world today: loving our neighbors
News Amar Peterman

MDiv candidate Amar Peterman is director of the Center for Empathy in Christian and Public Life (CECPL), an initiative of Ideos Institute. Created in response to our cultural moment of division and polarization, the Center’s goal is to equip Christians across America to faithfully, critically, and consistently engage in the complex issues of modern society.

“So many people have been craving these conversations and looking for someone to affirm their inclination that context, language, and gathering a plurality of people across culture and religion is something to strive for,” Peterman says.

    Peterman was originally approached by Christy Vines, president and CEO of Ideos Institute, in 2020 to come on staff as a writer after reading his work in Faithfully magazine. Following the January 6 attack, Vines proposed the idea for a center to help Christians engage with societal conflicts and asked Peterman to direct it, create programming, and convene a board in January 2021.

    A key focus of CECPL, empathic intelligence, is about understanding the real humanity among people who are different from ourselves.

    “Empathic intelligence helps folks across lines of deep division have generative dialogue. Empathy is about more than ‘feeling with’,” Peterman explains. “It is a cognitive move toward understanding the actions or beliefs of another, even those we vehemently disagree with, and the circumstances and vulnerabilities that drive their beliefs.” The Center brings together people to have these difficult conversations around the virtue of empathy.

    Adopted from New Delhi, India and raised in the Midwest, Peterman seeks to build bridges across social, cultural, and religious differences — including differences that divide American Christianity. He notes that there is disharmony in the way Christians act, citing the participation of Christians in both Black Lives Matter protests and the Capitol attack.

    In building out CECPL, Peterman has drawn extensively from what he’s learned at Princeton Theological Seminary, particularly in developing the “way of empathy” framework used for all Center programming. “It’s a strategic way of thinking and doing, rooted in scripture teaching, that culminates in sacrifice and giving of ourselves to help the other,” he says. “So much of that is from my time at Princeton Seminary.”

    In all of his work, Peterman emphasizes Jesus’ call to love our neighbors as a “radical witness to the gospel of Jesus in our world today.” Loving our neighbors is radical because it’s so hard for us to fathom it, he explains. “Neighbor love can bring people together across lines of difference without eliminating the particularity of their experience and cultures.”

    After graduation, Peterman plans to continue full time with Ideos, growing funding and partnerships for the CECPL, while also working as a columnist for Sojourners magazine. A widely published author and sought-after speaker, his work has also appeared in Christianity Today, The Christian Century, the Berkley Forum, and more.

    “I’m looking forward to doing this for a long time, continuing to build on the tools and connections Princeton Seminary has given me, and working at the intersection of faith and religious history,” he says.

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