Archive for the ‘spirituality’ tag
Parliament Ambassador Launches Spirituality and Medicine Interest Group at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine
During my first few months in medical school, I noticed that religion was rarely discussed. As a Theology minor in college, I knew that religion was an important part of life for many Americans; indeed, nearly 9 in 10 Americans report a belief in some divine or spiritual power, and several studies have shown that organized faith communities can play important roles in promoting healthy behaviors. Topics related to spirituality and religious beliefs arose during the Healthcare Disparities course, but the discussions were only tangential. I had a feeling that students felt uncomfortable discussing such personal topics in the academic setting.
For this reason, I proposed a new student organization for the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago: the Spirituality and Medicine (SAM) Interest Group. This group aims to create a safe space for discussion of how spirituality/religion affect healthcare. I thought that this idea fit in perfectly with Pritzker’s commitment to all forms of diversity. Last month, SAM was approved for funding by the Dean’s Council, and I was awarded Germanacos Fellowship, a $5000 grant to develop a medical discussion series focused on the intersections between spirituality/religion and medicine. These seminars will be partially based on a well-known religious literacy curriculum for healthcare workers developed by the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding. The Germanacos Fellowship was awarded by the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit that aims to make interfaith cooperation a social norm in the United States by promoting inter-religious dialogue and community service.
I am interested in the intersections between spirituality and healthcare because my own religious beliefs inform my choice of career. My passion for medicine stems from a declaration in Islam and various other traditions that saving one person’s life is equivalent to saving all of mankind. Through my work with the Interfaith Youth Core during my undergraduate years at Georgetown University and as an Ambassador for the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I have come to realize that religious communities—like all social structures—can be divisive or, when harnessed correctly, can be powerful catalysts for social improvement. Fortunately, the medical field is especially conducive to interfaith engagement because the concepts of service and human dignity are always implicit. In addition, physicians are one of the most religiously-diverse populations in the United States, and providers are increasingly recognizing the importance of religious literacy in medical education.
Over the next several months, I hope to introduce other students to religious diversity in the healthcare world, and to provide opportunities for my classmates to reflect on their personal motivations and values (whether or not those they come from a religious background) for pursuing medicine. I also look forward to finding connections between existing student organizations and facilitating dialogues on important topics such as mental health, reproductive health, and organ donation.
While becoming a physician, I also want to be at the forefront of the interfaith movement’s expansion into the healthcare world. I would be interested in collaborating with similar proposals that bridge the areas of religion and medicine, and presenting our work at the upcoming Parliament of the World’s Religions in 2015. I intend to demonstrate that religion and science can work together rather than in opposition. I am guided by one of my favorite verses from the Quran: “Had God willed, He would have made mankind as a single religion [or community], but [He intended] to test you in what He has given you; so strive with each other for virtue (5:48).
Aamir Hussain is a first-year medical student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. . A recent graduate of Georgetown University, Aamir became an interfaith programs facilitator through leadership training introduced by the Interfaith Youth Core and now serves as an Ambassador of the Parliament of the World’s Religions.
By Dr. Rob Sellers
For more than a decade, my life as a Christian has been enriched and my commitment to the Christ Way deepened through my study of the world’s great religions and my relationships with many followers of other faiths. To use a biblical metaphor, there have been times when my soul was parched and I drew water—thirst-quenching and invigorating—from these “alien wells.”
Someone might ask why a Christ follower would willingly seek spiritual refreshment from “foreign” wells. I’ve thought about that theological question and discovered several good answers. The biblical passage which informs me is found in John 4 in the story of Jesus’s journey through Samaria, where he stopped to rest at the ancient well Jacob had built in alien, Canaanite territory, near Sychar. It astonished his disciples that he would drink from a Samaritan well and, moreover, that he would befriend a Samaritan woman, especially one with a bad reputation. But Jesus had not hesitated to stop beside that alien well, to quench his thirst from it, and to engage one who regularly drank that water. I believe that it is appropriate to suggest that the story of Jesus at the well in Sychar serves as a biblical model for his disciples, including each of us.
Why indeed shall we seek to quench our thirst with water from alien wells?
Of course, if I were simply talking about literal wells and actual water, we could easily conclude the matter by saying that when we are thirsty, it doesn’t matter where in the world we might be. If we have a way to draw from the well in a foreign place and the water will not make us sick, we will readily drink from it to quench our thirst. But speaking metaphorically and not literally, the issues become more complex. Whether or not we drink from this alien well does not simply depend upon access to it or the purity of its water.
Jesus used water metaphorically in his conversation with the Samaritan woman, speaking of “living water” that “springs up to eternal life.” He clearly takes the literal well and actual water and uses them to shift the conversation to spiritual thirst. And so the question becomes whether or not “life-giving resources” can be drawn from other spiritual wells.
Here are some convincing reasons from several Christian scholars and writers who argue that other religions and their adherents may indeed provide us with spiritually stimulating and energizing water.
The first reason is expressed by Benedictine abbess, popular lecturer, and prolific spirituality writer Joan Chittister, who suggests that our common humanity justifies our drawing from other wells. She writes:
Whatever the distinctions of time, place, and culture, whatever the time and place in which we have lived, we are all human beings—just human beings, wherever and whenever we live, subject to the same emotional limits, dealing with the same range of emotional responses. . . . We have at our fingertips . . . a reservoir of wisdom as broad as the sky, as deep as history. [For e]ach great spiritual tradition, in its own way, suggests a model of what it means to be a holy person (Chittister, xi, xiv).
A second reason for drawing from “alien wells” comes from one of the world’s foremost ecotheologians, Jay McDaniel, a Christian pluralist who teaches at Hendrix College, not so far from us in Conway, Arkansas. McDaniel suggests that we should drink from other wells because our own water may be less than pure. He says,
Many people in different religions are realizing that the water is polluted, and that in order to cease polluting it, they need not only to dig within their own heritages for help but also to learn from other religions (McDaniel, 140).
Is it any wonder that an ecotheologian would advocate the benefit of searching for new sources of “water”? Simply looking at Christian history, or at the questionable beliefs of some contemporary Christian groups, leads me to agree with McDaniel that our own spiritual water is not always healthy.
A third reason for drawing water from other spiritual wells comes from ordained Methodist minister and professor, Martin Forward. His observation is not original, yet certainly bears repeating. Forward says that our fractured world desperately yearns for religious people to share with one another. He notes:
Although people of distinct religions have lived alongside each other for centuries, the modern world has added a special urgency to the need to do so respectfully and knowledgeably, since we now possess the means of destroying the whole created order. [Thus,] one hopes that respect for and knowledge of the “other” will lead humankind away from the abyss (Forward, 1).
Cardinal Newman—the 19th-century Anglican Oxford don who became a Roman Catholic and was nominated for sainthood by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010—famously exclaimed: “Oh, how we hate one another for the love of God” (Quoted in Smith, 250).
A fourth reason for drawing water from alien spiritual wells comes from Matthew Fox, Dominican priest and writer “silenced” by the Vatican for his Creation Spirituality, and who now serves as an Episcopal priest. In one of his 20 books, One River, Many Wells, Fox argues that the source of water in all the wells is the very same Divine River. James 1:17 calls this common “River” the “Father of Lights,” who—according to John 1:9—“gives light to everyone.” In response to this common source of spiritual water, Fox proposes that we practice “Deep Ecumenism.” To explain what he means by the term, he says:
I begin with an observation from Meister Eckhart, who says that “Divinity is an Underground river that no one can stop and no one can dam up.” There is one underground river—but there are many wells into that river: an African well, a Taoist well, a Buddhist well, a Jewish well, a Muslim well, a goddess well, a Christian well, and aboriginal wells. Many wells but one river. To go down a well is to practice a tradition, but we would make a grave mistake (an idolatrous one) if we confused the well itself with the flowing waters of the underground river. Many wells, one river. That is Deep Ecumenism (Fox, 4-5).
A final reason I mention for drawing from alien wells comes from a retired Presbyterian professor, W. Eugene March, who has spoken at one of the programs of the Abilene Interfaith Council. Marsh not only thinks we Christians should draw from diverse spiritual wells, but believes that the multiplicity of wells may actually be God’s good idea. He provocatively writes:
The diversity within our world is something most of us take for granted. There are in the neighborhood of fifty million species of plants and animal life currently to be found, and it is estimated that perhaps as many as fifty billion have existed at one time or another across the long lifespan of our world. . . .So why should there not be different religions? Why should we be surprised or troubled by the reality of different ways to express spirituality? Since diversity seems to be the norm in creation, by analogy a pluralism of religious responses among the people of the world is reasonable to expect (March, 18-19).
Now, what has so profoundly touched my own life in these recent years has not simply been the academic awareness of the good reasons to draw from alien wells and to develop relationships with those who drink those waters, but the actual spiritual practice of doing that interfaith engagement. And, no place has been more fulfilling—or filling—than the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, on whose Board of Trustees and Executive Committee I am privileged to work. May I mention just a few of the spiritual wells and those who draw water from them that have made me a better Christian?
First, I think of my friend Andras Arthen, a Spanish-born immigrant American who is director of the EarthSpirit Community, representing particularly the indigenous European pagan traditions. Andras (pictured on my right, in a meeting this past year in Guadalajara), with his “earth-centered” religious beliefs, has helped to deepen my conscious gratitude for the earth and has strengthened my resolve to care for it as a steward of our gracious Creator God.
I am grateful, also, for Kirit Daftary (pictured on my left), a Jain and president of Anuvibha of North America—a United Nations NGO dedicated to working for non-violence and following the teachings of its spiritual master, Acharya Mahapragya Ji. I’ve noted how Kirit, the extremely busy owner of his own manufacturing company, frequently goes on pilgrimage or retreat in India to serve and learn from his teacher whenever he can. His dedication to being with his spiritual master challenges my busyness and too frequent excuse-making whenever I am given opportunity to retreat with my Lord.
I have learned from Phyllis Curott, Wiccan priestess, author, and attorney from New York City. The commitment of Wiccans to women—especially to those who have been marginalized, abused, and forgotten—has led Phyllis to leadership in the Women’s Task Force of the Parliament.
Whether speaking at Rockefeller Chapel of the University of Chicago (pictured here) or arranging women’s conferences at the United Nations, she works voluntarily on behalf of others in a way that inspires and instructs me about believing in and championing the rights of women as God’s beloved children.
Finally I mention Imam Malik Mujahid, my Muslim brother in Chicago, who chairs the Parliament Board and is constantly working for peace among the religions. Recently chosen as one of the 500 most influential Muslims in the world, Malik juggles his global travels and peace-making missions with his own enterprise in Chicago and with his leadership of our Board. Yet, wherever I’ve been with him, he always excuses himself from discussions when it is time to pray (pictured here, several months ago in Salt Lake City). His dedication to communicating with God, no matter the circumstance, teaches me what it means to be thirsty for God.
“Alien Wells and Those Who Draw from Them”—these are such important resources for our own spiritual growth. Yes, we too have vibrant, living water to share from our own well with these friends of ours. And we must certainly do that whenever appropriate or invited. But I cannot think of any reason why we shouldn’t also be willing to linger at their wells. It just might be that when we are especially parched and impoverished in spirit, that their cup of cold water may refresh our souls!
Chittister, Joan. Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and its Meaning for You: Universal Spiritual Insights Distilled from Five Religious Traditions. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007.
Forward, Martin. Inter-religious Dialogue: A Short Introduction. Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2001.
Fox, Matthew. One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths. New York: Penguin Group, inc., 2004.
March, W. Eugene. The Wide, Wide Circle of Divine Love: A Biblical Case for Religious Diversity. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.
McDaniel, Jay B. With Roots and Wings: Christianity in an Age of Ecology and Dialogue. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1995.
Smith, Huston. “The Ecumenical Movement: What are we Seeking?” In Essays on World Religions. Ed. M. Darrol Bryant. New York: Paragon House. 1992.
Parliament Women’s Task Force Announces Tibet House Partnership Presenting Multi-Religious Speaker Series
The Parliament of the World’s Religions Women’s Task Force is excited to announce its participation in the Multi-Religious Speakers Series on the Sacred Feminine and the Vital Nexus of Religion and Women’s Issues organized in partnership with the highly esteemed Tibet House in New York City.
Program speakers featured in the series will be accessible to women around the world through the Parliament Webinar Series later in 2014.
The series will premiere with Ukranian spiritual teacher Nadia Reznikov hosting an advanced Tantric and Shamanic workshop for women at Tibet House April 4 and 11.
Nadiia Reznikova or Nabhasvati (“Shining”) is an extraordinary spiritual practitioner and teacher from the Ukraine who is making her first appearance in the United States at Tibet House. She has developed a system of tantric, shamanic, and psychotherapeutic practices for women which can produce immediate and dramatic improvements in emotional balance, joy, relationships, physical health, and inner and outer beauty. The practices are designed to naturally and powerfully elevate mood and energy state, enabling even new students to manifest desired changes within, as well as in their relationships and environment. These simple, daily practices have been proven effective tools of spiritual transformation for women of all walks of life and in all areas of life. Her shakti energy has been found to be directly transformative by many, and at the same time Nadiia teaches daily practices which may be done by students on their own.
The following is a synopsis of the Greeley lecture on peace and justice given by Rev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana at the Center for the Study of World Religions of Harvard University on February 3, 2014. This lecture is a precursor to SCUPE’s Congress on Urban Ministry (June 23-26, DePaul University, Chicago) which will address the theme: Together, Building a Just Economy. Rev. Dr. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium of Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) , and a Board Trustee of the Parliament of the World’s Religions
The unimaginable level of income inequality has become a serious public conversation and scholarly inquiry. President Obama has addressed it several times over the past couple of months, including in the recent State of the Union speech. The week before that, when some 2,500 participants from business, government, academia and civil society convened in Davos, they considered the Global Risks 2014 report which points out that this massive income gap is the risk that is most likely to cause serious damage to the global economy in the coming decade.
Immediately prior to the Davos meeting, Oxfam, the international organization that addresses issues of hunger, poverty and economic justice around the world, in its report said that the world’s richest 85 people control the same amount of wealth as half the world’s population, over 3.5 billion people. In other words, each of the wealthiest 85 has access to the same resources as do about 42 million people. These are incredible numbers. In his message, Pope Francis urged those who gathered at Davos to promote inclusive prosperity. “I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it,” he said.
Last November Pope Francis issued an Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, or the Joy of the Gospel, where he connects evangelization with a strong critique of consumerism. In a section entitled “No to the new idolatry of money,” he points to its causality: one cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, he says, “we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The worship of the ancient golden calf,” he goes on, “has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” Human beings are reduced to one of their needs alone, he says, and that is “consumption.”
The rise of plutocracy, where the super-rich increasingly control the political and economic processes that leave everyone else out is already a serious global problem. My concern is that in the United States we may be reaching a tipping point where laws such as Citizens United and the dismantling of the Voting Rights Act, both driven by big corporate interests, will tilt the playing field in favor of the super-rich for a long time to come. I believe that this is caused by greed, which – in both its individual and structural manifestations — is a spiritual problem.
This position was affirmed by an advisory body of the World Council of Churches, the Churches’ Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) when it met in March 2009, in Matanzas, Cuba, about six months after the global financial crisis hit. Its working group on Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation made three important affirmations.
First, they identified the cause of the crisis as unbridled greed, and declared it as a form of violence. “[T]he accumulation of wealth and the presence of poverty are not simply accidents but are often part of a strategy for some people to accumulate power and wealth at the expense of others. As such, greed is a form of violence which, on personal, community, national, regional and international levels isolates and injures us.”
In offering the provocative comment “greed is a form of violence,” the CCIA is connecting a word—violence— which it knows evokes a sense of strong condemnation, with a word that it believes is equally condemnable –greed, and advocating as robust a reflection on greed as the churches have had on violence. Indeed, churches, like other institutions caught up in systems of structural greed, find its reflection on greed muted, and its advocacy on behalf of economic justice compromised. A “greed is good” doctrine, popularized by the fictional character Gordon Gekko in the 1987 movie Wall Street, and daily and forcefully asserted by some Fox News and CNBC commentators, as well as proponents of prosperity theologies, therefore goes largely unchallenged.
While many religions address greed, it is important to recognize that today’s structural greed is almost unprecedented. A new robust and self-critical reflection that pertains to today’s realities, by all religious authorities, I suggest, is therefore urgent.
The WCC has engaged such a process over the past several years. Its program Poverty, Wealth and Ecology has engaged economists and theologians in dialogues that have now resulted in a proposal for a new financial architecture released in Sao Paulo, in October 2012. One interesting feature of this is the inclusion of a “Greed Line.” If there’s a poverty line below which a person can be said to be in poverty, there must be greed line, above which a person can be said to be greedy!
Second, they recognized greed as a spiritual problem requiring spiritual interventions. Christianity alone does not have the resources to address this problem, they said, and affirmed that religions over centuries have deeply reflected on the question of greed and have significant wisdom to offer. They specifically identified Buddhism as having a sophisticated reflection on greed and its disastrous consequences, about the value of simplicity for the lay community of disciples, and renunciation and voluntary poverty for the monastic community.
Affirming the value of having its internal reflections lead to interreligious engagement, the WCC together with the Lutheran World Federation convened a Buddhist-Christian consultation in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2010. Buddhists from several countries and a variety of traditions engaged with Christians from a variety of traditions in a consultation entitled “Buddhists and Christians engaging structural greed.” The resulting statement, “A Buddhist-Christian Common Word on Structural Greed” has helped to move Christian and Buddhist communities to deeper common reflection and action.
Third, it identifies the need to listen to the voices of the poor. “We acknowledge that in our various positions of leadership we are not always well-placed to hear the voice of the oppressed, of indigenous people, of women, of the disabled, of refugees and displaced people, of the poor and of the most silenced among us.” We who gather around theological tables, religious leaders and scholars, because of our social standing as educated, middle class elite, do not have access to the conversations that are going on among those who are poor in our communities.
This is a difficult but critical question. Prof. Harvey Cox of Harvard University, in a 1980 Christian Century article entitled “Theology: What Is It? Who Does It? How Is It Done?” addressed this question. The elitism is understandable, says Cox, given that the minimal conditions for doing theology include the ability to read and write, familiarity with the received tradition of concepts and categories, sufficient leisure to reflect on these, and the power to get one’s ideas published or otherwise heard. Are theologians prepared to take the next step, he asks, beyond the self-critical awareness we now have, for example, of how the rhetorical conventions and cultural symbols of any period shape even its most original theology, to a recognition of how the pervasive ideology of the dominant class influences the theology it produces?
So, how do you dialogue with those who are poor? One of my mentors, Aloysius Pieris, offers us an insight from his Sri Lankan context. In Asian Theology of Liberation  he insists that an authentic Sri Lankan theology must undergo a double baptism, in the Jordan of its religious diversity, and the cross of its grinding poverty. These two axes of religious diversity and poverty are basic facts of the Sri Lankan context. Dialogue, he says, is more than an academic exercise done in religious seminars organized and financed by western agencies, by people who do not have their feet on the ground. It is not an abstract concern, but a daily existential experience; never merely an intellectual exercise, it is a moral commitment. Pieris’ analysis suggests that if we want to engage in dialogue we need to incarnate ourselves in the context. Not only does it require a double baptism of immersion, it requires us to engage core-to-core with the other religious partners.
The question, however, is even more complex. There is plenty of dialogue that goes on in poor communities. Poor Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and those of other religions often live in the same communities, share each other’s concerns and needs, and reflect with each other about their fortunes and misfortunes and the ultimate meanings of day to day events. The difficulty for us middle class theologians and dialogicians is that we have no access to that conversation. Many difficulties, including those of communication and building trust become serious obstacles when we try to listen to that dialogue.
So, is there any hope for theology or interreligious dialogue? According to Pieris, there is no alternative but to engage in voluntary poverty, which for religious people, he reminds us, is a positive value. We must struggle against forced poverty, but voluntary poverty is a spiritual calling we must embrace. Some of the greatest saints and revered gurus in religious traditions, he reminds us, were people who renounced worldly comforts and pleasures. Some entered the monastic life, others such as Gandhi, became engaged in issues of social justice.
For those of us in religious leadership or theological academia, who assumed that theology can be done in the comfort of the seminary and its library, this is a problem. Indeed, for most of us, whose perceptions are colored by the dominant economic ethos, and where the desire to reach higher in the economic ladder is the positive value, voluntary poverty does not make sense. Therefore, Pieris asserts that it is simply not possible for people with such a middle class mindset to really understand and appreciate those who are poor, and recommends that those who engage in the disciplines of theology and of interreligious dialogue undergo a conversion, and undertake the baptism of voluntary poverty themselves.
This is what SCUPE does. We put our students into the streets of the city, to its local communities, to areas of concentrated poverty, where we teach our students to listen to the questions, struggles and stories of pain and laughter. We bring those questions together, subject them to deeper analysis, and then ask what scripture and tradition have to say about these questions. Indeed, in the margins our students have seen dialogue burst into argument, controversy and creativity. There, it never stays a mere dialogue, but moves quickly to action. At the margins people are conscientized, they strategize, organize and move in to light a fire under their leaders. Indeed, when religious or political leaders do not have the courage to do the right thing, it is the organized people at the grassroots who are able to hold them accountable.
A useful hermeneutical key to this conundrum was offered in November 2013, at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches. It’s Commission on World Mission and Evangelism issued a new statement on mission entitled Together Towards Life, which turned all previous understandings of mission on its head. “Mission from the margins invites the church to reimagine mission as a vocation from God’s Spirit who works for a world where fullness of life is available to all,” it declared. In other words, mission is not to those who are a poor as we always thought, rather, mission is from those who are poor and marginalized to those at the
This is a profound statement. Those of us at the privileged center, the theologians, the religious leaders, the pastors and teachers, the middle class elite, are the very ones that need to be missionized. It says to us powerfully that those who are hungry today have something important to teach us about economic justice, about life and its meaning, and about the importance of sharing and community. Those who are working two or three jobs at minimum wage and have kids to take care of at home also have something important to teach us about faith, because at the end of the day they still have strength left to say their evening prayers with the kids. Those who are suffering climate catastrophes, such as the recent one in the Philippines have something important to teach us about climate justice and about life’s fragility and resilience. When we are able to deeply comprehend that, we will discover that our questions are different, our answers are different, and more than anything else, our attitude towards life and our lifestyle will be different.
What happened in 2008 was a result of unbridled structural greed. It was violence that was perpetrated against massive numbers of people around the world. But the religious communities’ voice was muted. We were conflicted because we too participate in that structural greed. Given today’s context it is critical that the religious communities’ voices be powerful and resilient. But in order for that to be so, we must allow those in the margins to teach us, missionize us, and indeed, convert us.
The Rev. Dr. Shanta D. Premawardhana is President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education in Chicago. Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the Program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches based in Geneva, Switzerland. Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York.
 Martin Sinaga (ed.) A Common Word: Buddhists and Christians Engage Structural Greed (Lutheran University Press, 2012)
 Aloysius Pieris, Asian Theology of Liberation (T&T Clark, 1988, 86)
The Women’s Task Force of CPWR will partner with Women of Spirit and Faith and numerous other faith and interfaith organizations to host a dynamic event this fall. Alchemy: Occupy Your Sacred Self will bring together 240 women November 7-10 at the San Francisco Bay Sofitel. This intergenerational gathering of women from all spiritual and faith perspectives will explore the intersection of women’s transformative leadership and authentic feminine spirituality.
“Alchemy is rooted in a process of listening deeply to women for the past three years , “ says Kathe Schaaf, a co-founder of Women of Spirit and Faith and a member of the Women’s Task Force. “We’ve learned so much about what women are longing for, about the passions that guide their service to something larger than themselves. We’re excited about the potential synergy of bringing this remarkable community together to connect, co-create and cross-pollinate.”
Alchemy will offer a unique opportunity for women to both nourish their personal spiritual connections and explore emerging issues at the heart of faith and feminism. Multiple partner organizations will also be invited to explore the potent opportunities as they move beyond networking to collective transformative impact.
“By partnering with Women of Spirit and Faith for this exciting gathering, the Women’s Task Force continues its commitment to new models of mutual support and accomplishment,” said Phyllis Curott. “This kind of collaborative relationship expands organizational resources and impact and generates an inspiring spirit. These were among the wisdom gifts we received at our inaugural event in 2012, attended by over 500 people because of the generous sponsorship of University of Chicago’s Rockefeller Chapel and its Dean, Dr. Elizabeth Davenport, and we are delighted to have yet another opportunity to serve the community that is growing at the nexus of women and interfaith work.”
The innovative design for Alchemy grows from commitment to shared leadership and a profound belief that every woman in the room is equally valued as a leader. Rather than the usual conference structure built around keynote speakers and panels of experts, Alchemy will unfold through a series of circle dialogues designed to invite, harvest and illuminate the wisdom emerging in the room. These generative conversations will be interspersed with breakout sessions and open space designed to invite women to “occupy their sacred selves” – through movement, music, poetry, journaling, meditation, nature walks, rituals and focused discussions on topics of interest to the group.
Like the first Alchemy gathering held in April 2011, this event will actively invite the participation and nurture the leadership of young women leaders. Special events, activities and focused conversations will offer young women an opportunity to explore the issues that matter to them.
Women of Spirit and Faith was born at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne. Over the past three years, the organization has been working to support and nurture women’s spiritual leadership in North America. They have convened a number of retreats and gatherings bringing together women from diverse faith traditions and have expanded the interfaith invitation to include women who are spiritual but not religions, a fast-growing demographic often identified in the media as ‘unaffiliated’ or ‘the Nones’. The co-founders of Women of Spirit and Faith also edited an anthology of women’s spiritual wisdom, Women, Spirituality and Transformative Leadership: Where Grace Meets Power published by SkyLight Paths. The book, which features reflections from more than 30 women including CPWR Vice-Chair Phyllis Curott, was honored as one of the Top Ten Religion/ Spirituality books of 2012 by the American Library Association.
Anne Benvenuti, a Trustee of CPWR says, “’If women ran the world, what would it be like?’ a wondering, a longing, a frustration that I have often heard. There is a challenge in it, too. A challenge to move beyond feelings of exclusion and frustration with obstacles, a challenge to be the change we want to see in the world. Can women claim power and voice while being true to their religious and spiritual paths? Yes! Can they find their voices as women, and not just imitate men in order to break into the circles of power? Yes! Women of Spirit and Faith doesn’t just talk about women’s voices, but is a place for women’s voices, for expression of the deepest spiritual longings of women’s hearts, and for the transformation of those longings into creative action. The Women’s Task Force of the Parliament is delighted to join in the journey of Alchemy with Women of Spirit and Faith. “
To learn more about Alchemy: Occupy Your Sacred Self and to register, visit www.womenofspiritandfaith.org/alchemy .
The Dalai Lama offered words of hope and encouragement to a youth delegation of world faiths organized by CPWR Ambassador
Lachlan MacKay during a three-day tour of New Zealand. The Tibetan Buddhist leader and Nobel Peace Laureate shared 20 minutes with young people representing a range of different spiritual and faith backgrounds at the Chateau on the Park Hotel in Christchurch, New Zealand on June 10.
The meeting, to introduce youth supporters of CPWR to the Dalai Lama, centered on the question, “What is the most important thing for young adults and youth to remember when it comes to supporting the interfaith movement and the vision of a world of peace and compassion?”
Offering advice on how youth can work together in harmony both within their faith communities and in the global interfaith movement, the Dalai Lama shared his view that although religions have diverse philosophical perspectives on life, they all share an emphasis on love and compassion. “Religion is about cultivating a more peaceful mind, so it’s very disappointing if religion becomes a source of conflict,” explains His Holiness. “Our traditions share a common message of love and compassion, patience and tolerance. If we also remember the instructions about forgiveness, there’ll be no basis for conflict.”
The youth delegation of about a dozen people included representatives from Buddhism, Islam, Christianity, Baha’i, Quakers, the Sri Chinmoy movement and other spiritual backgrounds. Raving about the experience, CPWR Ambassador Lachlan Mackay said,
The audience was an overwhelming spiritual experience which will not be forgotten by any of the delegation. We regard His Holiness as one of the greatest peace and interfaith heroes of our time. It was an honour and a privilege to be in his presence. I hope the experience and the message His Holiness offered to us will inspire those present at our meeting with him to work tirelessly for interfaith dialogue and collaborative action with all youth in Aotearoa irrespective of their chosen religious or spiritual path. It is a firm belief of those in the interfaith movement that we have to increase our building of bridges of trust, love, understanding and peace amongst all cultures and ethnicities if we are to counteract the many problems facing our very polarised and conflicted world.
Article edited from original by Lachlan Mackay, International Ambassador and Member of the Ambassadorial Advisory Council, CPWR, and Tom McGuire, Member of the Interfaith Youth Movement in New Zealand
Delegation of Interfaith Youth Leaders in Aotearoa. Delegation Head: Lachlan Mackay – Baha’i, Wellington and International Ambassador for the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions. Deputy Head: Matt Gardner – Catholic, Christchurch and Irene McDowall – Presbyterian/Multicultural, Wellington. Rebekah Sands – Baha’i, Hamilton, Tom McGuire – Sri Chinmoy, Auckland Nadiah Ali – Muslim, Christchurch<br />Grace Reeves – Spiritual, Wellington. Robin de Haan – Buddhist, Auckland (mentor – over 30). Jonathan and Char-Lien Tailby – Quakers, Hutt Valley (mentors – over 30)
The average percentage of global youth trusting religious leaders is now in the single digits. This “mass exodus” is becoming a pervasive challenge for a lion’s share of the world’s major faith traditions while leaders grapple, struggle, and investigate. Even framing the issue is problematic and poses controversy. So how can the claim religious leaders are performing best in South Africa to connecting to youth be considered credible?
Viacom International, the media corporation owning MTV networks and numerable communications platform is spearheading an ambitious research endeavor. “The Next Normal” plans to be the largest, sharpest, and most comprehensive survey of Millennials (Gen-Y, predecessors to “Digital Natives) in the world. In April, research conducted by the project reported a comprehensive look at the generational character on religion, spirituality and faith nation by nation.
Some of the most significant findings include South African millennials having the most trust for religious leaders of any nationality, and that Japanese and Saudi Arabian Millennials are the most inflexible in terms of individualism and choice in religious matters.
Most significant of all is that these numbers are powerful and help plot the future of interfaith around the world.
The study shows,
In exploring Millennial attitudes toward religion, faith and spirituality across the globe, we found that overall, this generation believes that everybody should have the right to choose their own religion. But their openness and tolerance are also marked by distrust in organised religion, as well as distinctions between faith and spirituality in some countries.
On average, only 9% of Millennials say they trust their religious leader and only 10% name “religious leader” among the top 5 inspirational people or bodies of people in their lives (compared to 19% for celebrities and 14% for sports stars). In terms of trust in religious leaders (who could be anyone from a local priest, preacher, imam or rabbi to the Pope), South Africa comes out strongest with a score of 29% trust – still a relatively small minority – followed by USA on 24% and Turkey on 17%.
Trust in religious leaders is lowest in France (2%), Japan and Spain (both 3%).
So where are the magic answers?
The New Digital Age Google forcecasts shows us that via the internet, humans will increasingly utilize their virtual passports to meet on the social web. This creates unprecedented and uncontrollable influences on millennial attitudes, and may reveal why, some unexpectedly, the youth of certain nationalities are shifting longstanding views on religion.
Considering the parallel, but alternate universe existing on and off the world wide web, Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt recently shared a shocking measure of our day and age. In North Korea, he met women conducting traffic that have become YouTube sensations for their strange, revealing clothing and mythical relationship with the supreme leader. Yet, these women don’t have the slightest notional understanding of YouTube, let alone the internet. Nowadays, the web enables geophysical outsiders unprecedented access into clues about what makes any nation’s people tick.
Cultivating Online What We Do Face to Face
The Parliament of the World’s Religions is the one global event where these relationships can be built organically through personal encounter, with the intentional and expressed purpose of cultivating international bonds of harmony through interfaith understanding. Historically, youth have made remarkable contributions to the Parliament, and leave changed for life. The difference for the next Parliament is that these meeting will have already happened through introductions on the web.
Can we gauge the meaning of all this, and should we? Does the Parliament answer to the youth exodus? The results of this survey is consistent with the reports flurrying in from all corners of the world in our Global Listening Campaign. These sessions conducted by Parliament Ambassadors have uniquely national flair, but express one sentiment that is resoundingly the same: have we lost our youth? How can we get them back?
The Parliament’s answer is simple: engage online, and act proactively to talk with youth. If confidence is greatest in favor of South African faith leaders, it must mean that faith leaders deliver on their promises and in an age of expecting results, they must act on their word.
Do you find this to be true? How do religious institutions answer to the attitudes of youth to engage millennials in religious and spiritual communities inclusive to all living generations? What can the Parliament do?
- To share a response in writing to become part of a Parliament online publication, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
- To pursue Ambassador opportunities to hold a Listening Session in your community, please e-mail Stephen@parliamentofreligions.org
by Rev. Anne Benvenuti, PhD
Board Trustee, The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions
© April 2013
The “Nones” are the largest and fastest growing segment of the population on the religious landscape in America, according to the most recent Pew survey. In just the last five years, this group of willfully unaffiliated people has grown from 15% to 20% of the population. They are people who have no religious affiliation, and who don’t want one. Yet only 5% of those surveyed call themselves atheists. In other words, the Nones include many people who, while they don’t want a religious label also don’t want the traditional secular-rationalist-humanist label. 28% of them have practiced yoga, and I wonder how many of them have meditated. That question wasn’t asked. But 60% of these people feel close to the natural world. The majority of the Nones are white people who were raised in religiously affiliated homes. Beyond this, they cut across many of the more common culture divides; they are people with college degrees and people without a college education; they have incomes over 75K, as well as incomes under 30K. In this they defy traditional interpretations, that people who go to college outgrow a childish intellectual dependency on religion, and that poor people lean on religion to support them in living with poverty and its attendant adversity. And it’s especially noteworthy that the Nones are disproportionately young: they’re people who grew up on a socially networked planet, not a religiously networked town.
I’d like to suggest that many of the Nones have “gotten off the bus,” an expression that refers to travelers who want to escape pre-packaged tourism so that they can discover a place as it “really” is. I know a lot of Nones and many of them are Alls. They celebrate the Winter Solstice, and Easter sunrise, they may do yoga or meditate, and they give thoughtfully to charities, all in no particular order, but depending on where they are, how they feel, what seems to be called for. They resist labels produced by media-saturated culture to represent certain predetermined sets of characteristics. They distrust such prepackaged beliefs, and also distrust religious institutions that are so often corrupt and hypocritical. Yet they value human spiritual heritage, often in great variety, and many of these people are more comfortable in a variety of religious settings than they would be in only one.
As a Trustee of the Parliament, I feel it is very important to acknowledge the Nones, and particularly the Alls among them, to notice that they have gotten off the bus and don’t want to get back on. They are not looking for certainties. The old definitions are not relevant for them. Atheist? No. Agnostic? No. Believer? No. They live in verbs more than in nouns; they are more about experience itself and less invested in beliefs about experience.
My best guess is that the Nones, and especially the Alls among them, express a vital spiritual pulse in the contemporary human world; one that samples spiritual practices, just as people sample the music and cuisine of many cultures. I’ve seen many religious eyes roll at the notion that people are sampling religion like hors d’oeuvres. I’ve heard religious people say that this cannot possibly be a path of spiritual depth, selecting from the menu the most delectable items while eschewing the solidly nutritious, wanting the pleasures of spiritual comfort without the disciplines of communal practice. But, I ask, why make such negative attributions to our fellow humans, especially when we know well the struggles of relating old institutions to an ever-changing world? Once the familiar critique from those who practice solely within specific religious institutions has been stated—and I think it worth a listen– where are we?
I think that we are on a new page, in a new chapter; maybe we are in a new book. For the first time in the history of human psyches, human life is global as a matter of course. At the same time, this global planet is suffering from the collective impact of the human species. It might well be this context that makes the traditional religious issues seem trivial, tribal, and irrelevant. A very legitimate question might be, “Who cares what you believe, much less about religious in-fighting, when we are on the brink of ecological disaster?” Perhaps those who carry forward the religious institutions should seek in the depths of our heritage the wisdom that is relevant to the global and ecologically threatened context in which humans, indeed, all species now live. We should expect to bring forward something of value for this utterly new context, and we might need to accept that many people will engage our traditions on their own terms, not on ours.
As an Episcopal priest I think it is time to welcome conversation with the Nones, and to welcome spiritual practice with the Alls. It is time to listen and to see the way that the Nones can so easily incorporate the All of humanity’s spiritual heritage. We may offer to the Nones and Alls from our own religious heritage, but we need to respect them for what they are too. They invite us to get off the bus, to experience the contemporary world as it really is, a place in which increasing numbers of people are not only comfortable in mixed cultural settings, but who are themselves multicultural individuals living in a multicultural world. We can at least consider that some of the Alls are genuinely interfaith individuals, bringing religions into a new and global era in human history.
from The New York Times
by Sharon Otterman
The psychology graduate student ran a wooden stick across the edge of a Tibetan Buddhist singing bowl on Tuesday and asked the five homeless young men sitting in front of him to listen to the undulating sound, and to raise their hands when they could no longer hear it. One by one hands went up, until well after the sound had seemed to dissipate.
Then the student asked the men to take long breaths and to visualize themselves not in their current circumstances — living in transitional housing near the Lincoln Tunnel — but as their “best selves.” With eyes closed, the young men pictured those best selves loving their present selves. Then they visualized sending that love across the room, first to one of the other men, then to all of them.
After 15 minutes, they opened their eyes. They were still in a fluorescent-lighted conference room at Covenant House with a few plants, a coffee machine and a microwave. But their faces were relaxed. Over the course of 16 weeks of group therapy and meditation, a bond had formed among them, the young men said, one that they said filled them with a sense of possibility.
by Christopher Gordon, M.D. and Ben Herzig
from The Huffington Post
National surveys have consistently found that the vast majority of Americans identify as religious and/or spiritual in one way or another. But is there any room for spirituality or religious practice in psychiatric treatment? Is there a place at all for faith in an era that so privileges the brain over the mind and posits neurochemical explanations — and pharmaceutical treatments — for most ailments?
Nowadays, slick television commercials and glossy magazine ads market antidepressants directly to sufferers and their treatment providers, promising extraordinary relief and happiness. In the real world, life is not so simple. It is actually a rare case when a person’s problems are satisfactorily resolved by a prescription alone. Much more commonly, anxiety or depression or other symptoms are part of a larger picture, requiring a more complex solution. So how do we figure out what is the matter, and what might be helpful, beyond a symptom-targeted medication?
It is useful to think about human problems from four perspectives, and then to bring these perspectives together to get a sense of the whole person. The first useful perspective is a social one, which looks at what is going on in someone’s life, particularly their important relationships, to assess whether something important is occurring there. Examples might include domestic violence, or, less drastically, marital unhappiness, or being bullied in school, or some other important life circumstance. Clearly, we don’t want to offer medication when the problem requires addressing some real problem in living — for which counseling can be very helpful. The second perspective, however, is a biological one. In fact, many times depression and other mood disorders and anxiety disorders do reflect “chemical imbalances,” which have a biological component and are amenable to medical treatment if that is what the person prefers.