COLUMN BY MICHAEL E. HILL
Every summer I wonder how it is possible that time is flying by so fast. As we enter Week Three, I can hardly believe we’re nearly one-third of the way through our 2022 Summer Assembly. Like with so many things that are precious in life, I find myself wanting it to slow down, but I’m also reminded that “time flies when you’re having fun.” For those who have been with us all season, thank you for making it so. For those joining us for the first time this week, we are so excited you’ve joined this party of reflection and recreation, introspection and inquisitiveness, prayerful pondering and powerful performance.
This week we explore “The Future of Human Rights,” a timely topic given all that’s happening in our nation and the world. Human rights have long been held as foundational, moral principles protected by national and international law. This week, Chautauqua looks to the future of human rights both at home and abroad. Great strides have been made across the globe in the more than 70 years since the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights; indeed, human rights have become central to the conversation regarding peace, security and development, and more explicit protections in international law now protect women, children, victims of torture and many others. There is much to be celebrated and still much to be accomplished. As always, we seek to ask the most impactful questions: What work must still be done in this critical global field, central to our ethics and morality as a human species? What newly recognized rights will shape this work going forward?
Our guides could not be better equipped to help us unpack these answers. Authors like Alison Brysk, who wrote The Future of Human Rights; nonprofit leaders like Nicole Austin-Hillery, former executive director of the United States Program of Human Rights Watch; Chelsea Follett, managing editor of HumanProgress.org and a policy analyst for the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity at the Cato Institute; Noah Feldman, Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School; and Nobel Peace Prize winner Nadia Murad will each bring a unique frame to our inquiry. It’s breathtaking to consider the depth and breadth that these leaders bring to our assembly week.
In our companion interfaith series, we envisage “The Spirituality of Human Rights.” How did humankind come to recognize what we understand as human rights? In 1776, the Declaration of Independence recognized “… these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed, by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights.” In 1948, the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights echoed this reality in recognizing that “the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Does this recognition arise from the human psyche as manifested in the sacred Scriptures of the world’s religions? From whence does it come? In this week, we will seek to discern the spiritual and ethical wellspring foundations of this truth, and how to live it.
And who better to help us with this discernment than the Rev. Adam Russell Taylor, president of Sojourners; Layli Miller-Muro, founder and chief executive of Tahirih Justice Center; Abdullahi Ahmed-An-Na’im, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University School of Law; Cornell William Brooks, director of the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at the Harvard Kennedy School; and Kathryn Sikkink, Ryan Family Professor of Human Rights at Harvard Kennedy School?
In addition to this timely conversation about human rights — and I would argue our very humanity — we welcome back to Chautauqua the Rev. Michael-Ray Mathews, chief faith officer and deputy director of Faith in Action. Michael-Ray was last with us in 2018, and his return, in some ways, reminds us of our pre-COVID times at Chautauqua. I know that he will bring his same prophetic voice to this time, taking in all we’ve learned in the past four years. I look forward to having him back. If all of this seems a bit heavy, there’s always a mix at Chautauqua. I hope you’ll have a chance to relax and enjoy some time with Sheryl Crow with Keb’ Mo’ and Southern Avenue, and ABBA The Concert. Part of the magic of Chautauqua is mixing serious inquiry with serious fun. I know both will fit the bill! We also celebrate one of our proudest legacies at Chautauqua as one of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle’s featured authors, Erica Chenoweth, author of Civil Resistance: What Everyone Needs to Know, gives a featured talk. Our literary arts program at Chautauqua, from visiting authors to our Poetry Makerspace and so much more, enriches our lives and reminds us that Chautauqua has long had its own impact on the national conversation. In our other venues, our resident arts companies continue to dazzle with Chautauqua Opera Company’s production of Tosca, the closing week for Chautauqua Theater Company’s Indecent, the work of the Music School Festival Orchestra, Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and so much more.
On a personal note, my husband Peter and I are blessed to be the current occupants of the incredible President’s Cottage on the grounds. If you’ve ever wondered what the official home of the President looks like, I hope you have purchased your tickets for the Bird, Tree & Garden Club’s biennial Home & Garden Tour. We are excited to open the doors to our home for this very special celebration of Chautauqua architecture. You won’t see us there, however — we’ll be checking out the other homes on the tour.
Speaking of BTG, they are one of many community-building groups at Chautauqua. I was so excited to take in our first-ever Community Activities Fair on Bestor Plaza last Sunday. I hope you’ll look out for the one this Sunday to preview the rich menu that is our community groups; I thank them all for all they do to enrich our lives here.
We have just left Week Two and our annual celebration of our nation’s independence. I was struck by how respectfully we all asked questions about what we hope our nation will be, not just during this summer, but for the years to come. Week Three continues that fine tradition started almost 150 years ago. Thank you for adding your voices to it. Thank you for enriching it. Thank you for demonstrating that people of goodwill — albeit of varied perspectives — can come together to wrestle with important topics and still enjoy one another afterward!
Welcome to Week Three, Chautauqua.
We’re so glad you’re here.