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Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes Beacons of Hope: Our Interreligious S/Heroes — Dr. Judith Oleson

By Rev. Tom Reid

Every month, we honor an individual (or group) who inspires the bridge-building efforts of the Miller Center. Each honoree uniquely embodies the values of inclusivity, justice, and compassion. Dr. Judith Oleson, former director of the Tom Porter Program on Religion and Conflict Transformation at Boston University School of Theology, is our Beacon of Hope for the month of June.

This month’s Beacons of Hope column takes a more somber note as we honor the passing of our dear friend and colleague Dr. Judith Oleson. She died on June 10, 2023 after an extended struggle with cancer.

Judith was a fierce advocate for peace and justice, as well as a dedicated and caring teacher, mentor, and friend to many. She was a beloved faculty member during my Master of Divinity studies at Boston University School of Theology (STH) and became the director of the Tom Porter Program for Religion and Conflict Transformation at STH in May 2019. Among the many hats she wore, Judith generously agreed to serve as the faculty sponsor for the Interfaith Club at STH while I was a student. She also enthusiastically served on the editorial staff of the Journal of Interreligious Studies, which Hebrew College jointly publishes with BU and Hartford International University.

I had the opportunity to work most closely with Judith on a travel seminar to the Balkans in January 2018, which she developed and facilitated. Several of my classmates and I also spoke on a panel about that experience and the importance of contextual education at the international gathering of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. It was Judith who encouraged us to do so. Prior to coming to STH, Judith taught at Gordon College, where she built a relationship with James and Petra Taylor of the European Center for the Study of War and Peace in Zagreb, Croatia that included a course she taught several times on post-conflict social reconstruction. Through that challenging and sacred work, Judith introduced many students to the beautiful, rich, and complex history and culture of the Balkans. And she brought those cross-cultural relationships and insights to STH.

I am profoundly grateful to Judith for her guidance and friendship, and am still struggling to come to terms with her passing at far too young an age.

Thank you Judith for the love and authenticity with which you approached everything you did and everyone you encountered. I will continue to cherish the wisdom you so kindly shared with me. May God’s light perpetual shine upon you and surround all those who knew and loved you.

For more information on Judith’s life and plans for a celebration of life, please visit the funeral home webpage.

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