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Interfaith Lecture Previews

Homeboy Industries’ Jose Arellano and Steve Avalos to discuss life stories, from gangs to mentors, humanizing people in Interfaith Lecture

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Arellano

Sometimes, the mere presence of Jose Arellano and Steve Avalos is enough to impact someone’s life. 

While in Chautauqua this week, Arellano said a neighbor introduced himself. The man grew up in a predominantly white community as a person of color and had been coming to Chautauqua for around a decade. Just seeing Arellano and Avalos on the grounds impacted the man’s life.

This gives Arellano and Avalos the inspiration to go back to Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and reentry program in the world, where they are co-directors of case management and navigation.

The Homeboys will take the Amphitheater stage at 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 5 for their lecture “The Power of Empathy: Live It or Create it.” It is the final Week Six Interfaith Lecture themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.”

Before becoming Homeboy “navigators” — who help “trainees” by assisting with the transition out of the gang lifestyle and culture — Arellano and Avalos were trainees themselves.

Arellano’s family was in gang culture. Despite excelling at school, Arellano got involved with a gang by age 12. Three years later, he was in jail for the first time. 

Arellano said there was always someone to give him hope even in the darkest times, including when he was facing a life sentence in prison.

“I had given up,” Arellano said. “I felt it in my soul, like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ and I remember I couldn’t even get out of bed, I couldn’t eat.”

His cellmate was an older man from Pakistan. 

“I remember he tapped my bunk one day, and he said to me, ‘I can’t sit by and watch you do this to yourself,’ ” Arellano said. “I got up and said, ‘Watch me do what to myself?’ He said, ‘Watch you go through what you’re going through. You know what your problem is? You don’t keep your mind and your body in the same place. Your body is in here, but your mind is out there. If you keep your mind and your body in the same place, you will have perfect peace.’ ”

Avalos

That changed his life. 

“I said, ‘Damn, how even in this dingy cell do I get blessed with this human being that in one of my most hopeless states, he was able to infuse hope in me?’ ” Arellano said. “That’s been the story of my life.”

Arellano and Avalos met about eight years ago, working through the program in Los Angeles separately. 

“We both had separate roles in the organization early on, and just kind of seeing him and where he was at, he walked it, he talked it, so I always found inspiration from him, but we never really talked much,” Arellano said.

At Homeboy Industries, problem-solving as navigators is a complicated and complex task. 

“It’s complex trauma, so it can’t just be so simple a solution sometimes,” Arellano said. “We really have to assess every situation because we’re dealing with people’s lives. Human beings, we’re complicated, and our population, they come from extreme trauma and poverty and some of the stuff they go through on the daily and some of the stuff they’ve been through is very complicated. There’s a lot of layers to it.”

Avalos said his relationship with Arellano has strengthened from working together with trainees, leadership and sitting in counsel. 

“A lot of times we disagree and then we come to a middle. It’s good,” Avalos said. “Sometimes, I don’t see it his way until the end, and sometimes I do. It’s one of those relationships, but we know our intentions.”

Ultimately, both want an intentional process while working with trainees.

“We don’t want to just make decisions rapidly,” Arellano said. “We want to talk through every process with the individual. We want to be sure they feel seen, that they feel heard and they have a part in their transformation, as well.”

Avalos loves the work he does at Homeboy, and he feels more drained when he isn’t working. He doesn’t even see it as work, he said.

“You see a lot of gang members or people you would maybe avoid, or walk on the other side of the street, and then you realize how kind and compassionate they are — and when they’re not, it’s because they’re broken,” Avalos said. “When you start to see those things, that changes everything.”

Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno compared the Homeboys’ story to that of Tuesday’s speaker, Edgar Rodriguez, the pastor and police chief from Moville, Iowa.

“Their stories are the rest of the story, where we’ve got the chief of police who does this compassionate policing, and Jose and Steve have both been recipients of that compassion,” she said. “Homeboy Industries walks the talk of caring and compassion in the way we wish every organization, every church, every company and every community would live and be and do.”

The two will take turns sharing their stories and wisdom at today’s lecture, she said. 

When someone makes a wrong decision, people tend to dehumanize them, unless it’s their child or someone they are close to, Avalos said. He wants that same perspective applied to everyone, even strangers. 

Experiences shape people, Arellano said, so finding one positive experience or relationship in a sea of negative experiences can change someone’s life. 

“It will reshape the way you see yourself, and it will help reshape the way you see the world,” he said.

Pastor, police chief Edgar Rodriguez to encourage empathy, share work in small Iowa town for Interfaith Lecture Series

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Rodriguez

Edgar Rodriguez is perhaps one of the most important people in the city of Moville. There, a place with a population under 2,000 people on the western edge of Iowa, near the state’s tripoint border with Nebraska and South Dakota, he holds two distinctive positions: the lead pastor of New Hope Evangelical Church and the city’s police chief.

It seems natural to him.

Born in Piedras Negras, Mexico, Rodriguez moved to the next town over, Eagle Pass, Texas, when he was a toddler. After high school, he served for four years in the Marine Corps. 

In 2010, Rodriguez, his wife — whom he met in the Marine Corps — and their five children moved to Moville. The goal: revitalize Moville Evangelical Church into New Hope. Three years later, he joined the county’s sheriff’s department. 

Rodriguez will enter Chautauqua’s Amphitheater at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 3 to present “Empathy: The Key for Human Survival,” part of Week Six’s Interfaith Lecture Series themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.”

Both of his roles have plenty of overlap, he said.

“I do a lot of community policing and connect with as many people as possible,” Rodriguez said. “They know me as a pastor, so when they see me in my police gear, it doesn’t really change or faze them much. They talk to me just as easy as they do as a pastor.”

Getting to talk with people doubles as his ministry, he said. 

“They know me as a pastor, so they’ll tell me about personal things and ask me personal questions and ask for advice and prayer,” he said. “I get to do that while I’m on duty.”

Despite Moville’s small size, it’s a hub within the county, hosting the county fair and drawing in people from neighboring towns. It’s half an hour from Sioux City, Iowa, an hour and a half from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and three hours from Iowa’s capital and biggest city, Des Moines. 

U.S. Highway 20 (a 3,365-mile coast-to-coast route) has only one four-way stop, which is in Moville. Rodriguez said it causes a couple fatal accidents each year — part of his job is monitoring the intersection (Rodriguez had to pause his interview with the Daily because a car ran the stop sign, nearly colliding with two other vehicles, he said).

Rodriguez said his ministry is serving, loving and helping people.

“It’s serving through the church, sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with people and helping people grow in their faith,” he said. “That’s been my life.”

He said he gives plenty of advice to those as a police officer.

“I’ve led a lot of people to Christ heading down to jail in the back of my car,” he said. 

Sometimes, he does have to be forceful with people who have had difficult pasts. 

“A lot of times, you deal with people and they don’t know anything other than the hard life they’ve led,” he said. “A life of lie after lie after lie, just trying to get out of things. A drug life, that’s all they know. An abusive life, that’s all they know.”

Even in those situations, Rodriguez’s patience, sympathy, empathy and understanding are a short reach away. 

“Once I deal with the law side of things, then I deal with the human side of things,” he said. “Sometimes, it has to be in that order. I have to be safe first, then I can give them my heart. I look forward to those moments, and I get them often.”

At the church, he also focuses a lot on community life. He said a local family had a child in an Omaha, Nebraska, hospital, two hours away, and are finally coming home. They’ve been reaching out to let the family know the community is praying for them, even if they can’t see it, he said. 

Rodriguez’s empathetic heart will be at the heart of his lecture today. He said humans need connection, encouragement, understanding and recognition. Too often nowadays, he said, people react too quickly to mistakes others make. 

“In this fast-paced world, people don’t give each other their time anymore,” he said. 

He will use stories from his life and how God prepared him for this life and being empathetic to help others in his lecture, he said. 

“I hope when people leave my talk, they can think better on how they view people, and not so quickly judge people by their actions, but take a step back and ask why,” he said. “Why did they do that? Why did this happen to them? Why are they living this way? There’s a big story behind that immediate action.”

People should exercise sympathy and empathy, or perhaps empathy followed by sympathy, before judging others, he said. 

“Let’s be good human beings,” he said. “Let’s encourage one another, let’s root for one another and let’s believe in one another. I think that’s what we’re missing in our society today.”

‘Faith After Doubt’ author Brian McLaren to speak on finding faith, building cultures of empathy

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

McLaren

Faith has almost always been a part of Brian McLaren’s life. Conversely, so has doubt.

“I am a committed Christian, but doubt has been my companion really throughout my whole life,” McLaren said.

Faith and doubt are the highlights of McLaren’s latest book, Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It, which came out in January. 

McLaren, although born one hour east in Olean, New York, in 1957, will make his first in-person visit to Chautauqua. He will present his lecture “Studios of Empathy: Why, What, and How?,” at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2 in the Amphitheater, the first of three Interfaith Lectures for Week Six themed “Building a Culture of Empathy.”

His recent book is deeply personal to him, he said.

“I grew up in settings where doubt was something to be ashamed of, maybe hidden or covered up, and I came to understand in my own life that doubt wasn’t the enemy of faith, but pretending wasn’t good for your faith,” he said. “On a personal level, that’s important.”

Although raised in the church, McLaren felt himself drifting away from Christianity during his teenage years. 

Then, one night changed his life.

“I was lying under a clear, starry sky one night and had an acute sense of not just looking up and seeing beauty, but of being seen by that beauty, seen and known and loved,” he said. “I felt that love fill me, so powerfully that it felt a little scary — more than my human heart could handle.”

Later that night, McLaren saw his friends with the same level of beauty and love.

“From that night forward, I have felt in my deepest self the truth of what John said in the New Testament, that God is love, whoever lives in love lives in God,” he said. 

His career since then has been focused on helping people find the most loving versions of themselves, he said. He was a pastor for over 20 years, and he is currently a faculty member at The Living School for Action and Contemplation. McLaren has received two honorary doctoral degrees, one from Carey Theological Seminary in Vancouver in 2004 and another from Virginia Theological Seminary (Episcopal) in 2010.

For all these years, people have come to McLaren, bringing with them their questions, problems and doubts. He’s seen a steady increase recently, though.

“In the last six or seven years, I’ve just seen an almost tsunami of people needing to talk about their questions and doubts,” he said. “People are watching the way a lot of Christians have been involved in politics, culminating really on Jan. 6 when we saw ‘Jesus Saves’ flags not far from gallows being raised to hang somebody. All of this created somewhere between a crisis and catastrophe for many people in their faith.”

McLaren sees empathy as a way forward. As he is the first interfaith lecturer for this week’s theme, he wants to set a theological, psychological and historical framework about empathy.

“I want to talk about the possibility of our faith communities across religious traditions becoming places that actually build a culture of empathy,” he said. 

He calls these studios of empathy, meant to help the community at large. 

One of the issues with empathy right now is that nobody necessarily thinks it is their job to wake up each day and figure out how to build a culture of empathy, he said. He hopes people walk away with a sense of wanting to create that culture.

“I would hope each person who is present goes away feeling like, ‘This is my job,’ ” he said. 

Comedian Benji Lovitt to share stories from Israel, power of laughing through adversity in lecture

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Lovitt

Although confined to Zoom last year like most other people, comedian Benji Lovitt is used to going out and about all around the world.

Born in Dallas, Lovitt, who is Jewish, visited Israel several times with a Jewish youth group. He later spent his gap year there. He loved visiting every time, he said. 

By the age of 30, Lovitt was living in New York City — but he didn’t like it. 

“I had this idea that I’ve got nothing tying me down, so why not spend some time in Israel?” he said. “If I don’t do it now, I might regret it forever.”

That was in 2006, and Lovitt still lives in Israel. He’s also performed in the United States, South Africa, Australia, England and more. 

“It’s a blast to be on stage,” he said. “There’s no shortage of material when you’re an immigrant, especially an American in Israel.”

Lovitt has returned to the United States to present his lecture “The Power of Humor: Laughing to Keep from Crying,” at 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 28 in the Amphitheater. 

It is the final Interfaith Lecture Series for Week Five, themed “The Authentic Comedic Voice: Truth Born of Struggle,” a week in partnership with the National Comedy Center.

“We sort of say it’s a Jewish tradition to laugh to deal with adversity,” Lovitt said. 

While he enjoys Israel, Lovitt said, it was difficult adjusting to life there when he first moved. 

“Most immigrants don’t make it,” he said. “They end up going back to their own country because it’s one of the most unnatural things in the world to transplant yourself to the other side of the planet. Humor has been a great tool to deal with my experience here.”

Lovitt said Jewish history involved thousands of years of persecution, and a sense of humor is something that’s helped Jews through adversity. Israel as a country, too, gives Lovitt plenty of stand-up material, he said.

“Israel is where the East meets the West, where old meets new, where religion meets secular,” he said. “It’s a young country, and when you’re an immigrant with an outside pair of eyes, everything is different, so it’s not hard to come up with things to laugh at or comment on.”

His outsider points of view have been published across Israeli media and in USA Today, BBC Radio, Time and The Atlantic. Now that Lovitt has learned about himself and his character on stage — which he said was the hardest part of his career — he feels comfortable making jokes about more serious topics.

“There’s almost nothing that can’t be mocked if done appropriately by a professional,” he said. “I feel like this is the year when the world sort of figured that out.”

COVID-19 halted most normal aspects of life, but Lovitt said people didn’t stop laughing. He’ll discuss this, plus his experiences in Israel, during his lecture.

“We have to laugh or we’ll lose our minds,” he said. “We should never feel guilt laughing, even during tough times. Just as it’s perfectly human to cry, it’s equally human to laugh.”

Lovitt felt comfortable laughing through the pandemic because of this mindset, and he was happy to see others were understanding that mindset.

“The feedback I got from the public was, ‘Yes, we need to laugh. We need you to entertain us because we’re suffering here,’ ” he said. 

Comedian Leighann Lord to bring entertainment, enlightenment to Interfaith Lecture Series

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Lord

Leighann Lord had not one, but two first loves: writing and theater. For the last couple of decades, she’s pursued both loves as a stand-up comedian.

“I love writing,” Lord said. “I love getting an idea, then writing about it, then developing it on stage in front of people to see whether it works or not. And when it does, oh my gosh, there’s no feeling like that. It’s absolute magic.”

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 27 in the Amphitheater, Lord will give a mix of a stand-up routine and a lecture, titled “I’m Not Funny, I’m Brave.” It’s part of Week Five’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Authentic Comedic Voice: Truth Born of Struggle.”

She joked that her intention is to make people laugh, but if they don’t, then she’ll call it a lecture.

“That uncomfortable silence? I intended that,” she said with a laugh.

Lord has been in love with stand-up for about as long as she can remember.

“As a kid, I loved watching stand-up,” she said. “There was something about it — the ability to tell truths through laughter is a gift.”

Ultimately, Lord attended Baruch College at City University of New York, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and creative writing. She was then accepted into City University’s master of fine arts program, but she declined the offer. 

Instead, Lord entered the corporate world for five years.

“I was miserable, absolutely miserable,” she said.

Whereas plenty of people get stage fright, Lord found the corporate world terrifying.

“Like, you go to work? In the same place? Every day? With the same people? Shudder, shudder, clutch the pearls. Like, I can’t,” she said.

Lord understands that others experience stage fright, but she has an opposite reaction to being onstage. 

“I’ve talked to professional actors who are terrified of stand-up because it’s a very specific thing,” she said. “You’re on stage by yourself. There’s no fourth wall. … People say to me, ‘How do you get on stage?’ and I say, ‘How do you not?’ I understand stage fright, but the first time I stood on stage to do stand-up, I felt like I found my calling. I felt like I found my safe space.”

Currently, Lord is in the midst of recording Showtime’s third iteration of “Funny Women of a Certain Age,” the same name of a group Lord frequently performs alongside. 

“This is big for me, to be attached to this special,” she said. 

Throughout COVID-19, Lord has continued working through virtual shows, but she is now busier than any time she can remember. 

“Everybody wants to go out, out, out now,” she said.

To Lord, the best part of stand-up is bringing positivity to people’s lives, especially if any audience members are going through a particularly negative period. 

“To know that on really, really good days, I’m making people either forget about their pain, or laugh about it for just a little while. It’s a very brief respite, but that’s what art and entertainment does,” she said. “What I can do through stand-up, through laughter and letting them build up the endorphins and have a good time, I feel like I’m doing something good.”

During today’s lecture, Lord will make humor out of topics that she said, on the surface, are not funny. These topics include education, religion, health, politics, family, ageism and inequality. She said people will probably wonder how she will make those funny.

“I do, and I have for a while,” she said.

Part of the equation for good comedy is tragedy, she said. 

“If you’re just having a lecture or a speech, it might not resonate in the same way that you can deliver a message or relief with laughter,” she said. 

Lord wants attendees to feel entertained and enlightened. Her lecture will be a combination of stand-up, then spending time to reflect on what was said.

“I really feel like I’m from the George Carlin school of comedy, where he joked about very serious things and made people laugh,” she said. “I feel it’s after that laughter when you take that cleansing breath and realize what you heard, and you can laugh about it — then, maybe, we can now talk about it.”

Literature professor Michael Krasny to talk history of Jewish humor

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Krasny

Michael Krasny is an educator through and through, in the classroom and beyond. 

Starting in 1970, Krasny became a professor of literature at San Francisco State University. From there, he’s also taught at Stanford University, the University of San Francisco, the University of California and in the Fulbright International Institutes. 

A decade after becoming a professor, Krasny began surfing the airwaves, and by 1993, he was the host of KQED’s “Forum, a live call-in show focused on news and public affairs. 

“I also talked to a lot of literary figures and people in the world of the public eye,” Krasny said. “I had the great privilege of interviewing presidents, heads of state and Nobel Prize winners, just a whole range of outstanding and extraordinary people, and also just everyday people, people just in the news.” 

Krasny retired from “Forum in February 2021, but he said he always enjoyed it, just as anyone should enjoy what they do. 

“At first, I was nervous of being in the public eye, but I got kind of an appetite for it,” he said. “I enjoyed doing what educators do, ideally — which is communicating ideas and bringing a higher level of discourse.”

Krasny hopes to bring this type of energy at 1 p.m. Monday, July 26 in the Amphitheater for his lecture “Jewish Humor: History, Culture and Identity,” the first of Week Five’s Interfaith Lecture Series themed “The Authentic Comedic Voice: Truth Born of Struggle.”

Jewish humor has a lot of stereotypes, Krasny said, but a true one that stuck out to him is that much of Jewish humor comes out of suffering. 

“But, I realized that as a student, teacher, critic of literature, scholar of literature, that jokes — and jokes aren’t the only example of Jewish humor, there’s Jewish humor in film and television and anecdotes — were built like narratives, and had a great deal of things to be learned about Jewish identity and Jewish experience, but also about life in the broader personal sense,” he said.

Krasny explored Jewish humor in his 2016 book Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means. He is also the author of Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Spiritual Envy: An Agnostic’s Quest.

“I think there’s a lot to be said about this idea that humor is a catharsis or release of anxiety,” he said. “It can illuminate a great ideal and provide us an understanding that once you start digging in and become an archaeologist with the language and what’s subtextually beneath the language, and the psychology of the stories or tales or jokes, there’s an immense amount there.”

When teaching literature, Krasny said he is really teaching literary theory, history, psychology, linguistics and science. He spent years with a science and humanities convergence program funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, he said. 

“I enjoy writing and talking about a whole range of topics,” he said.

One of Krasny’s most enlightening teaching experiences was back in the 1970s, when he was asked to teach a course on Black literature, he said. Krasny is white, and he was hesitant to accept such a role. 

“I don’t think a white person would be asked to do that today,” he said with a laugh.

He ended up accepting the position, and emphasized to students he wasn’t pretending to be an insider or understand the Black experience from that perspective. Instead, he said he was a scholar and an outsider. Now, he is writing a book about this experience.

“It was some of the best teaching, most rewarding teaching of a lifetime,” he said.

For his lecture, Krasny hopes he provides an enlightening conversation about Jewish humor, understanding that seeing humor through an analytical lens can ruin the humorous aspect of a joke. He sees it another way.

“I’m not doing stand-up or anything like it, but something that can be uplifting, but also make people think or expand their consciousness,” he said. “I think that’s what a good talk, presentation or, frankly, a good stand-up routine should do.”

Zola to share story of Jewish history in U.S. through archival documents in lecture

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Zola

Perhaps few other people could best describe American Jewish history than Rabbi Gary Phillip Zola. As the executive director of the largest free-standing research center dedicated to American Jewish history, Zola is his own living, breathing historical document. 

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 21 in the Amphitheater, Zola will present “American Exceptionalism versus American Jewish Exceptionalism: Actualizing Religious Freedom in U.S. History,” the final Interfaith Lecture Series of Week Four, themed “The Evolving Religious Narrative in America.”

In its 75-year history, the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives has had two directors: Marcus himself, who stayed director until he died just short of his 100th birthday, and Zola. 

The archives are housed at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati, which Zola said is the longest continuously running rabbinical school in the United States. 

“If you want to write or study or research Jewish life in America, it’s almost a certainty that you’re going to need to come to the American Jewish Archives,” Zola said.

Beyond this certainty, students at the college, which include those seeking a doctorate in American Jewish history, are required to use the archives as part of their curriculum. In addition, the archives serve the public and house researchers from around the world, he said. 

As executive director, Zola said he ensures he promotes the archives, encourages people to donate materials and helps raise money.

Uniquely, Zola is also the college’s Edward M. Ackerman Family Distinguished Professor of the American Jewish Experience and Reform Jewish History. Often, libraries or archives are led by librarians or administrators, but Zola is a historian and professor. 

And he loves it.

“Many people, when they think of the word ‘archives,’ they conjure up in their minds this image of a dingy closet with stacks and stacks of boring paper, and it doesn’t sound very interesting or exciting to many people,” he said. “For those of us who love history and who love learning about the past, the archives literally make you feel as though you’re in a candy store.”

Not a day goes by where Zola doesn’t find a new piece of history, he said. Even if the archives have housed a document for years, it may not be used during that period until it is needed to shine light on a topic. 

“There’s hardly a day that goes by that you don’t find amazing material,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s earth-shattering in that it really is transformational in its importance. 

“Other times, it’s little nuggets of fascinating material that are extraordinary.”

One of the most significant documents at the archives, Zola said, is the Riegner Telegram, which he said is accepted by scholars to be the first communications from Europe to the U.S. that Hitler’s Nazi regime was killing Jews.

Sent on Aug. 8, 1942, this was the first message notifying Americans of actual executions, despite the fact that Americans at the time knew of the ongoing oppression and brutalization of Jews in Europe, Zola said.

“When you look at that, and you see the original and look at that, it’s just overwhelming,” he said.

Zola will use several historical documents in his lecture to help illustrate his lecture’s purpose, which he said is to highlight one of the American Jewish community’s most important contributions to the U.S.

The community, Zola said, has played a significant role in making the country follow through on statements and promises made in America’s founding documents.

“American Jews have been uniquely positioned, though we’re a tiny minority, to have been and continue to be leading advocates for the expansion of civil rights and of liberty, equality and pursuit of happiness in America,” he said.

For anyone who visits the archives, even those who don’t read or study history, it is always an overwhelming experience to see preserved, important documents, Zola said. Perhaps, however, nobody appreciates it more than the living, breathing historical document himself.

“I love studying the past,” he said. “I love these documents.”

Native American Community Services Executive Director Michael Martin to discuss Doctrine of Discovery, trauma and common humanity

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Martin

Every day is an adventure for Michael Martin. 

As the executive director for Native American Community Services of Erie and Niagara Counties, which he said is a growing, multifaceted organization serving both Native and non-Native populations, no day is the same and each day brings its own set of challenges.

“I see challenges as opportunities,” Martin said. “Ever since I became executive director (in 2004), we’ve been able to grow the organization and ensure its sustainability. We’ve been innovated in terms of creating new approaches and programs to solving long-standing issues and underlying factors. It’s exciting.”

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 20 in the Amphitheater, Martin will present his lecture, “The Doctrine of Discovery: An Unjust Imperative, Born Out of Religious Justification — A Presentation of the Tragic and Lasting Consequences of Supremacy,” the second Interfaith Lecture for Week Four’s theme of “The Evolving Religious Narrative of America.”

Originally from Western New York, Martin left for another career after working at NACS in college. He returned so his son could be raised in the same community as him, and he ultimately came full circle with his return to NACS. 

Despite his organization’s efforts, community members — particularly the Native community — still face intergenerational challenges, Martin said.  

“Over the last decade, we’ve put a focus on not just solving systematic issues, but trying to root out and address underlying factors in the community. And we found out for other communities, too, a lot of times there are these intergenerational impacts,” he said.

In 2009, Martin said, NACS created a documentary, “Unseen Tears,” which focused on those intergenerational and underlying issues in Western New York.

He said understanding those factors helps people understand “why we are the way we are.”

With facing historical trauma, Martin said one of the key questions, which he will discuss in his presentation, is not asking what is wrong with somebody, but what happened to them. 

“Everyone has a story, and all populations of people have had experience with trauma, current and historical,” Martin said. “And, some people have a different resiliency. Some can handle trauma, and for others a simple thing can send them into chaos.”

Learning about those factors made a huge difference, Martin said, in programs and approaches in addition to outcomes for the people NACS serves. 

Martin said NACS, in a way, “wants to put itself out of business” by solving these underlying issues. But, it has added new programming that goes beyond this mission, such as language programming and teaching tradition concepts. 

“It’s not just about resolving underlying issues, but building community and creating opportunity and creating pride in traditional and cultural teachings,” he said.

In his lecture, Martin said he will discuss the consequences of supremacy from the Doctrine of Discovery, which Christians gave as justification for taking land that didn’t belong to them, dating back to the 1400s. The Supreme Court still uses it today to justify some rulings, Martin said.

Martin hopes people realize there are more similarities between humans than differences, especially when it comes to basic needs. 

“I’m looking for opening people’s eyes and hearts and get us back to the original teachings of how we were supposed to be together as humans,” he said. “If we trace all of our creation stories back, we probably all got those same original instructions.”

In addition, Martin hopes that understanding the Doctrine of Discovery and its impact will help people be more informed to make more just choices.

“We need to root ourselves going forward in the future around our common humanity,” he said.

Interfaith Youth Core founder Patel to present ‘big vision’ idea of interfaith work in United States to open week on evolving narrative

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Eboo Patel is perhaps one of the most respected people in America’s interfaith community in the present day.

Having served on President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Patel is also the founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, a national nonprofit which cooperates with higher education and corporations to create the next set of leaders in a religiously diverse world, according to its website

At 1 p.m. Monday, July 19 in the Amphitheater, Patel will present his lecture “Interfaith America,” the first of three Interfaith Lectures in Week Four, themed “The Evolving Religious Narrative of America.”

“No one is better qualified to present this aspect of America’s future,” said Chautauqua Institution Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. 

With the IFYC, Patel oversees and organizes what he called its big vision.

“A lot of my job is strategy,” Patel said. “It’s articulating the big vision. It’s inspiring other people around the big vision, and the big vision is interfaith America — the welcoming of America’s diverse religious identities and the nurturing of cooperation between them.”

Patel loves every aspect of pursuing this big vision.

“I love the day-to-day of my work, the strategizing, the figuring out how to team the right staff members together,” he said. “I love giving talks, I love writing — I’m just about to publish my fifth book — and I love the big vision. I love the idea of being able to contribute to something called interfaith America, which I think is the next chapter in the great story of America’s religious diversity.”

Patel’s forthcoming book, We Need to Build: Lessons From the Field For Those Who Want To Forge A Diverse Democracy, is out next May. He is also a regular contributor to Inside Higher Ed, with his blog titled “Conversations on Diversity.”

Not only is Patel a regular Chautauqua visitor, he said, there is a quote of his painted the wall of the Colonnade’s hallway, even though Patel doesn’t remember what it says. 

“It’s a wonderful community,” Patel said. “It takes religion seriously as a part of the human enterprise and civic enterprise of the U.S., and that’s really important.”

Rovegno finds it fortunate Patel and Chautauqua have maintained a strong relationship.

“Chautauqua has been blessed to have (Patel) and IFYC as valuable partners in our interfaith work since we held our Chautauqua International Interfaith Conference at the Ismaili Center in London in 2005, during which Eboo first joined us in this ever-expanding part of our mission,” Rovegno said.

In his lecture, Patel said he will discuss the history of Judeo-Christians, his vision of interfaith America and how Chautauqua might model his vision.

“I would like people to view themselves as creators,” Patel said, “to recognize we’re at an exciting hinge point in the history of religious diversity in America.”

Trinity Forum’s Cherie Harder to explore importance of reading and storytelling as foundational to society

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Harder

The importance of reading and storytelling is on Cherie Harder’s mind. She believes the way we read and share stories needs to change for the greater good.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 14 in the Amphitheater, Harder will present this idea in her lecture “Reading for Justice,” the last of the Week Three Interfaith Lecture Series for the theme of “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Society.”

Harder is the president of the Trinity Forum, which is “contributing to the renewal of society by cultivating and promoting the best of Christian thought, and helping leaders to think, work, and lead wisely and well,” according to its website. 

She compared it to the Aspen Institute, but with a Christian view. 

“We try to provide a space for leaders to wrestle with the big questions in life, but in the context of faith,” she said. “We try to provide a platform for the best in Christian thought leadership. We host discussions, Socratic forums, lectures and conversations with people wrestling with big ideas and trying to do so Christianly.”

Before this role, Harder held a series of important roles in Washington, D.C. She served as a policy adviser for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist; special assistant to President George W. Bush; the director for policy and projects for First Lady Laura Bush; and senior counselor to the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

One of the questions of the week for her is, “What’s the relation between virtue, excellence and character in personal and societal happiness?” 

She said her past work helped her answer such a question.

“Whether coming at it from a position of legislation on Capitol Hill or at the National Endowment for the Humanities, we’re essentially trying to find the best of the humanities — the best of literature and letters which speaks to what it means to be human and what the good life is,” Harder said.

Comparing her time in Washington to the present day, Harder said reading and storytelling is more challenging now than in the past. She said reading is on a decline, which has implications for individuals and society at large.

“It seems harder to sustain the idea of a shared story that we are all a part of and that we all contribute to and have a place in,” she said. “That, I think, is one of the factors behind our increased division, polarization and instability to each other.”

Harder said stories that answer the aforementioned question help shape ideas of justice in ways that argument or laws may not. A couple examples could be Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, or Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, she said, noting that they shape ideas of what is just, virtuous and what it means to live in a flourishing society. Nowadays, she said, people read less, and have fewer shared stories.

“It’s more the sort of reading one does with a text or tweet where you’re essentially strip-mining for information and reacting, as opposed to imaginatively entering into something,” she said.

Harder expects Chautauquans will already understand the value of reading and storytelling, but she hopes they take away from her talk reading’s formative influence.

“As we as a country … try to navigate a liberal democracy that is increasingly diverse, (we need) unifying stories for coherence and flourishing,” she said. “Deep reading actually is an important part of that.”

With book as thesis, bestselling author Heather McGhee to discuss true cost of racism for everyone

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

McGhee

Born on the south side of Chicago and educated in American studies at Yale University, Heather McGhee was in her early 20s when she joined Demos, a think tank which pursues a just, inclusive and multiracial democracy, according to its website. 

When she joined, in 2002, Demos was just a startup. By the time McGhee was 33, in 2014, she was its president. Then, a few years later, she stepped down. She wanted to do some traveling. 

“I set out on a journey over the course of three years across the country from California to Mississippi to Maine and back again, trying to answer the questions of, not just how (the U.S.) became so unequal, but why,” McGhee said. 

This turned into McGhee’s 2021 book, The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together, a New York Times bestseller.

“My opening question in the book is, ‘Have you ever wondered why it is that Americans can’t seem to have nice things?’ ” she said. “And by nice things, I don’t mean drive-by espresso or self-driving cars, I mean universal child care and health care and reliable modern infrastructure and wages that keep workers out of poverty — the kinds of things that other societies with a fraction of our wealth are able to figure out.”

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 13 in the Amphitheater, McGhee will present her lecture, named after her book, part of Week Three’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Society.”

McGhee still serves as a trustee emeritus at Demos. She helped lead Demos to the national level, including two Supreme Court visits: a confirmation hearing in 2017 and arguing for voting rights in 2018. McGhee regularly appears on NBC and MSNBC programs like “Meet the Press” and “Morning Joe.”

Her book uses economics statistics, but it is more about the stories of others, she said. 

“It is propelled by dozens of human stories of people who lost their homes in the Great Recession, workers trying to unionize, community members taking on big polluters, and all finding that racial division is a common thread to our biggest challenges.”

McGhee said these challenges cause enough dysfunction in politics that everyone pays a price, including white people, hence the second part of her book’s title. It was also the subject of a TED Talk from TEDWomen in December 2019 that now has 2.3 million views.

“It is my attempt to challenge the zero-sum paradigm that would suggest there’s an ‘us versus them,’ and what’s good for us is bad for them,” she said. “I think we all lose out when we allow zero-sum thinking and discriminatory systems to distort our collective wellbeing.”

She hopes that people take away a sense of optimism from her lecture in that people can feel empowered when coming together across racial lines. It can be overwhelming to not understand why people keep sabotaging each other, making the country more divided, she said.

“I hope people take away a sense of how we got into this mess,” she said.

McGhee draws inspiration from her mother, Gail C. Christopher — a woman with her own distinguished history in health and public policy. 

Originally, McGhee said she approached the book from an economic policy standpoint, but she changed viewpoints when considering her mother’s history in policy and working on issues of racial healing.

McGhee dedicates her work to her 3-year-old, multiracial son. 

“He’s part of a generation that has no racial majority,” she said. “I think we owe it to that generation to figure this out … and make an America that is worthy of our people.” 

Former religion director Robert M. Franklin returns to talk role of moral leadership in functioning society

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Franklin

As made evident from his profession, the James T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership at Emory University, the Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr. is someone who believes morality is achievable across all aspects of life, even leadership.

At 1 p.m. Monday, July 12 in the Amphitheater, Franklin, who was the director of religion at Chautauqua from 2014 to 2017, will present his lecture, “Does Moral Leadership Still Matter? How American can Repair,” the first of the Week Three Interfaith Lecture Series, themed “The Ethical Foundations of a Fully Functioning Society.”

Franklin is also the author of Moral Leadership: Integrity, Courage, Imagination, along with several other works. 

“I am motivated by the opportunity to achieve our moral possibilities as a nation, to build bridges of understanding and cooperation between diverse communities, and to enable individuals to achieve their highest good,” Franklin said. “One of the things I love about Chautauqua Institution is its long track record of achievement in promoting each of these.”

In this book, Franklin writes that the United States is in crisis, and the way out is through moral leadership; he proposes a model for readers to use. 

“Robert’s timely book … is a guidebook for how to live in the world and culture that is evolving around us,” said Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno. “He will thoughtfully and appropriately set the stage for the important conversation of the week.”

Moral leadership consists of “intellectual and ethical integrity, a vision and commitment to the public good, and personal investment in a transformative community,” according to the book’s synopsis. 

Franklin has served in several leadership roles himself, such as president emeritus at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the only school in America founded in dedication to developing African American men, according to Franklin’s website

During 2020, Franklin ran to fill the remainder of the late Georgia Representative John Lewis’ term. He made it to the runoff election, where he lost to Kwanza Hall. 

In his Interfaith Lecture, Franklin said he wants to address three topics: the moral leaders who inspire people today, what they inspire people to do, and what people will do to make a difference in the world.

“I will talk about moral agency as a responsibility for each one of us,” Franklin said. “But also, I would like to invite people to think about becoming moral leaders who serve the common good. Moral leaders are people who inspire us and guide us to become better versions of ourselves, while holding us accountable for doing so.”

Franklin does not believe that moral leadership has to come from personal goodness or religious piety, he said in a recent Emory News Center article. Rather, he said, moral leadership comes from those searching for a common good and inviting others to join. 

Raised Christian in a Black church and by his mother and grandmother, Franklin used to think these traits were specific to his religion. 

“Later, I discovered that the truths that inspired me were not particular, but rather universal,” he said.

Now, he said, he explores how God is present in other traditions.

“My faith journey is an ongoing conversation with the creator and sustainer of meaning and love,” he said. 

Death, religion, drugs: Emory’s Gary Laderman to draw connections between faith life, consumption of drugs

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Laderman

When it comes to death, religion and drugs, Gary Laderman is the man with the answers.

“Laderman has become the foremost ‘death expert’ in American life,” according to a Dec. 14, 2020, Religion News Service article, after describing an 8-year-old Laderman’s dismissal of a rabbi’s advice to not think about death, which he was told after his grandfather died. 

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, July 7 in the Amphitheater, Laderman will present his lecture, “Faith in Drugs: America’s Religious Future,” the closing Interfaith Lecture for Week Two’s theme, “New Frontiers: Exploring the Future of Religion in America.”

Laderman is the Goodrich C. White Professor of American Religious History and Cultures at Emory University in Atlanta. He has always been interested in death, which led to his fascination with religion, but his journey researching and learning about drugs is more recent.

“My scholarly interests in writing a book about religion and drugs emerged later in my career, after I had written a bit on topics like the history of death and funerals in America, religion and popular culture, and religious diversity, and certainty well after I received my tenure,” Laderman said.

He began teaching a class called “Sacred Drugs” at Emory a few years ago — one of the key points of his journey, he said. The others were an essay on LSD and American spirituality, and the chapter “Medicine” in his book Sacred Matters: Celebrity Worship, Sexual Ecstasies, the Living Dead, and Other Signs of Religious Life in the United States.

I’m hoping to get folks to reconsider their understanding of what religion means and how that term is applied in American life.”

Gary Laderman, Goodrich C. White Professor of American Religious History and Cultures, Emory University

In this class, Laderman covers a variety of psychoactive drugs and said he enjoys learning with his students.

“My favorite things to teach are usually those topics that really strike a chord with them, like religion or the pharmaceutical industry; or the history of coffee; or psychedelics, death anxiety and religion,” he said. 

Laderman said, in a Nov. 10, 2020, Emory Report article, that both drugs and religion can help people escape daily life and drive questions about the meaning of life. 

About 300 students typically enroll in the class, he said.

“I love the class and am aware of the impact it has on students, which is tremendously fulfilling,” Laderman said.

Now, Laderman is writing a book with the same name as his Emory class.

Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno said she thought Laderman would be perfect for Week Two’s theme. 

“I asked a friend from Emory to describe Gary,” Rovegno said. “His response was that, ‘Gary is an exceptional, lively, informed and made-for-Chautauqua type speaker, who does very interesting work on contemporary religion and the spiritual habits of millennials.’ Gary will bring the Series’ conversation to a fitting and interesting closure.”

For his lecture, Laderman will hone in on two broad points. 

“On the one hand, I’m hoping to offer an alternative take on America’s religious future by looking at the connections between religious life and the consumption of drugs,” Laderman said. “That is a little far out, perhaps too far out for some people to even entertain, but, on the other hand, I’m hoping to get folks to reconsider their understanding of what religion means and how that term is applied in American life.”

Where tech, religiosity intersect: Margarita Simon Guillory to examine new faith practices

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Guillory

Not everyone would be impassioned by both science and religion. Yet they are Margarita Simon Guillory’s beloved areas of expertise.

For the last seven years, she has been in the field of digital religion, where she looks at ways religiosity and emerging technologies are intersecting.

“I didn’t even know that was a thing until I met people like Heidi Campbell (professor of communications at Texas A&M) who is a pioneer of the subfield,” Guillory said. “It really allows me to hone in on two passions of mine.”

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, July 6 in the Amphitheater, Guillory will present her lecture, “To Boldly Go: Technological Frontiers and the Changing Landscape of American Religion,” part of Week Two’s Interfaith Lecture Series, “New Frontiers: Exploring the Future of Religion in America.”

With a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Emory University and a doctoral degree in religious studies from Rice University, Guillory is now associate professor of religion and African American studies at Boston University. 

“I look at the ways in which many Americans, particularly (of) African-American descent, are engaging with forms of technology and new forms of media to express religious identity,” she said.

She is currently finishing a book, Africana Religion in the Digital Age, where she focuses on Black Americans’ use of digital gaming, social media and mobile applications to articulate religious identities.

“Religiosity is not necessarily on its deathbed in this country. People are just practicing differently.”

MARGARITA SIMON GUILLORY
Associate professor of religion and African American studies, 
Boston University

Guillory said people always try to engage in some sort of religiosity, but because of    COVID-19, people now use new digital tools as they become available or necessary. She said new technology usually impacts culture, including religion, in some way.

“You cannot have these wonderful digital tools and expect people to practice religion the same,” she said. “The pandemic is my proof. That’s my data.”

Guillory said numbers show some churches have seen a decrease in in-person attendance during the pandemic, but an increase in online attendance. 

“Religiosity is not necessarily on its deathbed in this country,” she said. “People are just practicing differently.” 

This new way of practicing religion will be part of her lecture today. 

“I’m going to use the ‘frontier’ metaphor as a lens to look at this relationship between American religiosity and technological advancement,” she said.

As a professor, Guillory likes to both teach and learn from her students.

“When I enter that classroom, I make myself vulnerable,” she said. “I am not just the disseminator of knowledge, but I am also on the receiving end. I expect to receive something from my students.”

She said discussions and interactive lectures help students feel comfortable talking with her. This is a style she picked up during her nine years as a high school science teacher.

One thing she learns every semester from her students is to be open to new things, which she said keeps her mind young. 

“They taught me to not be so stagnant, and be malleable and flexible in my thinking and my approach and how I study,” she said. 

In her first visit to Chautauqua, Guillory is looking forward to sharing her thoughts with a community of open-minded learners. She also expects to learn something from others while here. 

“I think I’m most excited about what I also receive in that rich and historic place,” she said. 

Auburn Theological Seminary’s Katharine Rhodes Henderson Henderson opens discussion on future of religion in America

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Henderson

When she was 9 years old, the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson learned about the Holocaust, or as she put it, “the evil that people can do to each other.”

As she continued to learn, she was particularly inspired by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor whose anti-Nazism led to his execution.

“The idea is to stand up, to resist evil,” Henderson said. “Maintaining the status quo isn’t what we’re called to do as Christians.”

At 1 p.m. Monday, June 5 in the Amphitheater, Henderson will present her lecture, “Living Between Precarity and Promise,” the first of three Interfaith Lectures based on Week Two’s theme, “New Frontiers: Exploring the Future of Religion in America.”

Henderson is the president of Auburn Theological Seminary, a 203-year-old multifaith leadership development and research institute based in New York City. She has served as president there since 2009 and is in her final months as president. Afterward, she’ll go on sabbatical and explore possibilities while working with faith and justice, she said. 

Her father was a professor at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, where Henderson was raised during the civil rights movement. She frequently attended marches and would end up singing at services in Black churches.

“Faith is not only sitting in a pew on a Saturday or Sunday, it’s getting up and taking faith to the streets,” she said.

Additionally, Henderson is the author of God’s Troublemakers: How Women of Faith Are Changing the World.

“I’m very interested in how people of faith and moral courage get into ‘good trouble,’ as (the late Senator) John Lewis would put it,” Henderson said. 

“These are places where people of faith and moral courage need to focus their energies and attention as we think about building the world and building the future.”

Katharine Henderson
President, 
Auburn Theological Seminar

Broadly, Henderson said people of faith and moral courage are responsible for building a more equitable, just and compassionate world.

In today’s times, she sees that as fighting for democratic principles, against authoritarian forces and white supremacy. 

She is inspired, encouraged and influenced by grasstop and grassroot leaders alike. 

“What I see is a web of connections and extraordinary, selfless work on behalf of others and on behalf of the work of justice,” she said. 

During COVID-19, she said, her work at Auburn was not greatly impacted in terms of technology because it is a national institute that is well-adjusted to remote work. She said they have actually been able to expand all over the country, and one of their largest events of the year, a gala fundraiser called Lives of Commitment, which usually drew 600 in-person attendees, welcomed several thousand guests online in 2020. 

She said the same is true for other organizations, and she knows of synagogues and churches in New York City that have expanded membership globally. 

However, numbers of deaths from COVID-19 have been challenging, she said.

“Many of the people we work with who are leaders of congregations or communities have had to learn how to meet the personal needs of people who are dying and their families at a distance,” she said. “It’s very hard to do that when you can’t hold a person’s hand when they’re dying.”

This grief is shared among people of all religions, and people need to grieve, she said. To her, life shouldn’t rush back to “normal.”

“It has been a time of multiple pandemics,” Henderson said. “Not just the COVID-19 pandemic, but the racial reckoning pandemic, the economic and equity pandemic, and as a world, the climate change pandemic.” 

For her lecture, Henderson will focus on how society stands emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, focusing on white Christian nationalism, religious freedom, race and climate change. 

“These are places where people of faith and moral courage need to focus their energies and attention as we think about building the world and building the future,” she said.

Henderson said she will share stories of her own experiences at Auburn and from people around the world doing this work. 

Coming out of the July 4 weekend and looking ahead to the nation’s 250th anniversary in five years, Henderson wants people to think about the future of their dreams. She plans to have some calls to action, or an action agenda, about the steps needed to get there.

“None of us is a silent partner,” she said. “We’re all partners in creating the world that God intends.”

Philosophy professor, author Robin Wang to focus on answers found in Taoism

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MAX ZAMBRANO – STAFF WRITER

Wang

To understand China and life, Robin Wang believes Taoism holds many answers.

Taoism is an ancient Chinese philosophy now practiced around the world. Taoists focus on harmonizing with the natural world through meditation practices similar to that in Buddhism and Hinduism. 

“I want to make the connection of how we can understand ancient wisdom and then living a flourished life in the 21st century,” Wang said.

At 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 30 in the Amphitheater, Wang will discuss Taoism in her lecture, “The Dao/Tao of Transcending: Yinyang Rhythm, Body Cultivation, and a Case of Religious Practice in China Today,” part of the Week One Interfaith Lecture Series, “21st Century Religion in China: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

Wang is a philosophy professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. She is the author of YinYang: The Way of Heaven and Earth in Chinese Thought and Culture and several other books and academic journal articles.

Taoism is a foundation, or root, of Chinese culture, Wang said, influencing all aspects of life — from medicine to art to cooking. She said Taoism can answer philosophical questions like the origin of the universe, what things are made of, and how things change. 

She said learning “suppleness,” the ability to adapt to new situations, is an important aspect of Taoism.

“A way to think about it is how bamboo blows in the wind,” she said. “It is resilience that will never break.”

Suppleness is what’s currently driving Wang in her professional and personal life. She said it’s about searching for truth and practicing goodness.

“Personally, I see it as being a mother,” she said. “How should you guide your children? Be a teacher. How do you help the next generation grow? You don’t have a fixed mindset, but you have a growth mindset.”

“I want to deconstruct this kind of bias about Chinese and Asian women. There is a mystique — people may think they are soft or submissive. I want to see how females play a role in today’s Chinese religion.”

Robin Wang, philosophy professor, Loyola Marymount University

COVID-19 is a key example of how humans deal with uncertainty, Wang said. 

“Uncertainty is a living condition,” she said. “How should we go about it?”

Wang recently finished teaching a summer course on rituals and meditation.

In one assignment, she had students develop a 15-minute meditation exercise instead of writing a paper or taking a test. 

She said young students need a social network to enjoy life, something that was interrupted because of the pandemic. 

“Through this meditation, they created this space between themselves and others in the world,” she said.

She sees meditation as an important exercise for anyone, describing it as a fasting of the mind.

“Meditation is training for attention,” she said. “Attention is a mental muscle. How should we train it? Exercise it, and then bring it to perform certain tasks with efficacy.”

Wang also looked at ways rituals impact all parts of life, including worship, architecture, weddings, family, healing and health, food and sacrifice. She said each culture has its own version of performing rituals.

“Ritual is social grammar — it ties society together,” she said.

In her lecture, she will first describe YinYang rhythm by looking at its origin and key purpose. She said YinYang may appear simple, but she wants people to learn its complex features.

“Everything is interrelated,” she said. “You cannot have one without the other.”

Wang said to understand China, people should understand YinYang.

“YinYang is the key to unfolding Chinese religion and culture,” she said. “It’s a cultural DNA.”

In the second part of the lecture, she will discuss the human body and its connection to transcendence, she said.

“The body is a physical form, but also there is a soul connecting with this physical form,” she said.

In the third and final part of her lecture, Wang will share stories of female Taoists, specifically ones training to become religious leaders. 

“I want to deconstruct this kind of bias about Chinese and Asian women,” she said. “There is a mystique — people may think they are soft or submissive. I want to see how females play a role in today’s Chinese religion.”

In addition, Wang hopes people take away some knowledge about Taoism.

“I think it’s good to let people learn something about this particular practice,” she said. “I want the world to know these people.”

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