Charles Cohen

My day job is professor of history and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and I’m also the director of the Lubar Institute for the study of Abrahamic religions. Our organization was founded in 2005 through the support of Sheldon and Marianne Lubar out of concern about rising religious tensions. The Institute encourages people of the Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity and Islam—to engage and learn about these traditions and their intersections. On March 14, we’ll be hosting an all-day conference, Reporting on Religion, which is open to journalists and the general public. The keynote address—which is free—will be by David Gregory, a former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press and author of How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.

My most memorable caffeine was coming to the realization that I can’t, usually, drink coffee after dinner! I kept having a particular kind of very paranoid dreams about 3:00 a.m. and began to wonder if coffee was causing them. I stopped drinking coffee in the evening and they went away! For some reason I can still drink the occasional Turkish coffee or espresso at night without incident.

 My current caffeine of choice is something strong. If you’re gonna drink coffee, go for it—no decaf for me! I prefer a high-octane coffee.

My favorite place for caffeine tends to be driven by convenience more than anything else, though my wife and I have always liked Steep and Brew. We seem to be drawn to the second-most-popular coffee wherever we live! We met in Berkeley and instead of drinking Peet’s, we bought our coffee from Istanbul Express.

 The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is John Winthrop (the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony and one of the Puritan founders of New England). My first book was on Puritan religious experience and I’ve spent a lot of time with his journals. I’d love to sit down with him and get his take on religion.

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: How to make our religious differences a force for human betterment, not suffering. As I’ve learned about other religions, I’ve begun to better appreciate, penetrate and understand their traditions, while increasing my commitment to my Jewish tradition. Now, when I’m called on to interpret a Jewish text at my synagogue, I can offer commentary in the context of each of the three Abrahamic faith traditions. Not polemically, to decide “who’s right,” but as a way to bring a greater array of material to bear to determine the significance of my own traditions. We’re at a point in history where there can be a tendency for religions to want to claim they have the greatest truth—but that’s a position we can’t afford any more. I’d like to invite others to work through our fundamental differences without discarding or discounting them, to navigate our disparities and deepen the profundities of each of our traditions without insisting others must adopt them.