George and Joan Braswell with their two daughters, son, and granddaughter.
BUIES CREEK, North Carolina – From visitors from West Africa to colleagues from local temples and synagogues, George and Joan Braswell greeted each attendee of the George W. and Joan O. Braswell World Religions and Global Cultures Center naming ceremony like a dear friend on Wednesday, Oct. 26. The Campbell University Divinity School hosted the ceremony.
Founded in 2007, the World Religions and Global Cultures Center is the creation of Dr. George Braswell, retired senior professor of world religions, and the only one of its kind among divinity schools in the United States. The center functions as a resource for ministers and laypersons to learn, teach, and train others to understand the cultures and religions of the world from a Christian perspective.
“George has been hard at work building relationships across interfaith communities,” said Campbell Divinity Dean Andy Wakefield. “Making sure that students have a chance to sit down with someone from various faith traditions and ask open questions and hear open answers for it to not be an antagonistic process but rather a dialogical process.”
Learning, listening, and growing from one another helps us understand our own faith better, Wakefield says.
Braswell created a Practicum in World Religions in 1980 and brought it with him to Campbell when he joined the faculty in 2005. The practicum focuses on helping church leaders better understand religious pluralism, a policy that acknowledges the diversity of multiple religious belief systems co-existing in society. He became increasingly aware of religion pluralism after returning from Iran in 1974 and noticing changing demographics in the United States.
Drawing on experiences from the mission field, Braswell used the practicum as a way to encourage and inspire Christian church leaders to interact with faith groups of all backgrounds with sensitivity and kindness.
“All religious people are trying to do the best they can with the conditions they have,” said Braswell in a 2014 interview with Campbell.edu. “My experiences have helped me understand they are pilgrims on a path, too… It’s helped me understand them better and helped me to be better able to share my faith with them, not in a judgmental way but in a sensitive and kind way.”
With the center approaching its tenth anniversary next year, Braswell has transitioned into retirement and following in his footsteps as director is Dr. Caleb Oladipo. Oladipo studied under Braswell at the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary from 1984-1987.
“The key emphasis for the center has been and will continue to be education, mutual understanding, and communications based on Biblical principles of love, scholarship, and integrity,” said Oladipo. “George fundamentally is a bridge builder. I am so grateful to God that I got to know him.”
The Reverend Lisa Grissom, visiting scholar for the center was also on hand to give remarks. Grissom is a self-proclaimed member of the “Braswell Brigade,” a group of students who lives were transformed by Braswell’s gift of insight and understanding.
“I am forever grateful to Dr. Braswell for the honor he has given me to work alongside him, to teach me, to train me, to affirm me, to encourage me, to inspire me, to challenge me, and to help me grow in my Christian faith,” she said. “He is my mentor, my counselor, and most of all, my friend.”
Before the unveiling of a newly-installed plaque by the center’s headquarters on the 3rd floor of the Taylor Hall of Religion, Braswell offered his family’s gratitude and appreciation for Campbell Divinity and the many religious leaders in the area that have helped make the center possible.
“’The real generosity of the future lies in giving very much to the present’,” said Braswell, paraphrasing Albert Camus. “That idea has stuck with me. I feel like all of you in this room have done that. Thank you deeply.”