A Week Seven Message from Chautauqua’s President

Welcome to Week Seven of CHQ Assembly. 


As I write this column on Wednesday, I’m reflecting on two cherished Chautauqua traditions that have occurred on the Virtual Porch in the last 24 hours. Old First Night, Chautauqua’s birthday, was a magical reminder of the foundings of this sacred place and all who have come before us to ensure its continued prosperity. Thank you to all who participated in the Tuesday evening ceremony and to all those who joined us online. It warmed my heart to see your greetings in the chat box. And just this afternoon, we celebrated the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2020. Again, my thanks to all who thought out the details of this special ceremony. It was a large class of graduates — more than 80! — which tells me that many are using the quieter moments during this global pandemic to read. Talk about making lemonade out of lemons! 

This week we look at “The Science of Us,” a title that might seem a bit opaque until one dives into it. In the midst of robust debates about tribalism, isolation and bridging differences, this wide-ranging week explores how 21st-century science, and now COVID-19, are disrupting our social and historical understandings of how “us” happens and who “we” are — as communities, demographies, families, nations and a human race. In this week: 

  • We look at America’s long narrative of folklore and our “melting pot” narrative;  
  • we explore our obsession with — along with the limitations and repercussions of — genealogical/ancestry services; 
  • we ask about the emerging scientific understandings of heritage and ethnicity; and 
  • we explore how science is informing community development and our socioeconomic models going forward. 

In our companion Interfaith Lecture Series, we dive deeply into “The Spirituality of Us.” Just as we address concerns about tribalism, isolationism and seemingly incompatible cultural worldviews in our Chautauqua Lecture Series, we use this same frame to examine the spirit of the world’s traditions — East, West, Indigenous and Divined — and how those traditions continue to communicate essential wisdom and weave tapestries of spiritual truth that reveal the “Us” of the world’s varieties of peoples. Be with us this week as we uncover emanations of the wondrous and mysterious wholeness that we in the U.S. are meant to be. 

I offer special thanks to our friends at Allegheny Health Network for serving as our Week Seven “Program Sponsor” underwriting this week’s programming. I encourage you to join their physicians at 3:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 12, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch for a conversation on personal genomics, social determinants and the use of big data on communities moderated by Karen Surkala, president of Allegheny Health Network Westfield Hospital. 

I’m thrilled that some of Chautauqua’s new and old friends will be with us this week to help unpack this scientific journey, including our chaplains-in-residence, the Revs. Casey and Robert Baggott; as well as my friend and Chautauqua favorite Barbara Brown Taylor. 

And to come full circle, while we celebrated the CLSC Class of 2020 in Week Six, we continue our celebration of the literary arts this week with the awarding of the 2020 Chautauqua Prize. Petina Gappah’s Out of Darkness, Shining Light takes us on an adventure through 19th-century Africa with a captivating story of those who carried explorer and missionary David Livingstone across the continent for him to be laid to rest back in England. Petina is a master storyteller, and we’re so proud to lift up her work. 

There are so many things to be excited about in this week. While we have moved our 2020 Assembly online, that’s one fact that hasn’t changed.

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