Interfaith Lecture Previews

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




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of the largest free-standing research center dedicated to American Jewish history, Zola is his own living, breathing historical document.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




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



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




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




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




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




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




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.”

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

Henderson_Katharine Rhodes_Interfaith_Wk2



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
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




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.”

Sociologist Yang to discuss survival, thrival of religion in contemporary China



It wasn’t until graduate school that Fenggang Yang realized the importance of religion. He was raised atheist and didn’t follow any religious tradition.

“Even my family tradition didn’t care much about religion,” he said.

Yang was particularly interested in Greek philosophy in college, and wrote his bachelor’s thesis on the notion of logos, which deals with human reason and universal intelligence. After realizing most philosophers reference God, he wrote his master’s thesis on God in Western philosophy. Through this intellectual pursuit, he found faith. 

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, June 29 in the Amphitheater, Yang will discuss religion in post-1949 China (which is when the country officially became the People’s Republic of China) in his lecture, “The Changing Religious Landscape in Modernizing China,” part of the Week One Interfaith Lecture Series, “21st Century Religion in China: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

Yang, a sociology professor at Purdue University, said his lecture would focus more on sociological work rather than theological. He is also the founding director of the Center on Religion and the Global East, which “is dedicated to advancing the social scientific study of religion in East Asian societies, East Asian diasporas, and religions originated in East Asia that are spread around the world,” according to its mission statement. 

His personal spiritual journey was entangled with his career pursuit, Yang said. Before following his spiritual path, he simply was interested in logos and philosophy. Yang was in his late 20s, in 1989, when the Tiananmen Square incident and June 4 massacre occurred in Beijing. 

He was in the U.S. at this time, but it still changed his perspective. 

“That triggered my serious pursuit in Christianity as a faith,” he said. “It’s really after that I prayed, and God became real to me, so I converted.”

Through Christianity and the Gospel of John, Yang spotted a familiar word: logos.

“Logos is with God, and logos is God,” he said. “ ‘Wow,’ I said, ‘since college I’ve been pursuing this logos. Finally, I know who is logos.’ ”

Around this same time, Yang said, his parents became Christian. He finds his father’s conversion particularly interesting because he was a lifelong Chinese Communist Party member. Yang said he has interviewed many people and discovered many older, and younger, people have turned to Christianity in China. 

“This is a great awakening happening in China,” he said.

Yang’s lecture will focus on this religious shift. He said it is also based on two books he has published, Religion in China: Survival and Revival under Communist Rule and Atlas of Religion in China: Social and Geographical Contexts

The first book took Yang 10 years to write, he said, after many visits and surveys in different places in China. In the second book, Yang said he used surveys and census data to draw religious maps, such as the distribution of Buddhism, or how many mosques, Protestant churches and Catholic churches are in China, for example. 

His lecture will broadly cover the different religions, but he said will focus more on how religions have survived and thrived under Chinese communism. He said it is possible that China’s Christian population will outnumber the America’s in the next decade.

“How could this be possible, given the suppressive, or repressive, regime?” he said. “That is the main thing I will try to explain. I will try to offer some stories and a general landscape, and as a sociologist, I can try to offer some explanation.”

Although COVID-19 has disrupted Yang’s research — he usually travels to China and other parts of Asia this time of the year — he said the political situation in China has created even more obstacles for him. 

“It has become very difficult for sociologists to do field work research in China or do interviews in China,” he said. 

China has recently been accused of genocide against its Uyghur Muslim population, which is mostly in China’s rural, northwesternmost Xinjiang province. 

“I think Americans need to be informed and express their care about those human rights abuses by the Chinese government,” he said. 

In opening Interfaith Lecture, Kelly James Clark to trace connections between early Chinese spiritual beliefs, Western thought

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Kelly James Clark wasn’t always interested in China.

“I didn’t think anything important came out of the East — not actively, I just thought everything important came out of America or Europe,” he said.

Then, after attending some conferences in China, things changed, He learned.

“I realized what happened in China was that we Americans would go and present our philosophical ideas, and Chinese would adapt to us,” he said. “I realized if we were actually going to have dialogues, we needed to start listening to them. We needed to start understanding traditions that shaped and informed them.”

At 1 p.m. today in the Amphitheater, Clark will make his first visit to Chautauqua to discuss his research and findings in his lecture, “A Spiritual Geography of Early Chinese Thought,” part of the Week One Interfaith Lecture Series, “21st Century Religion in China: Collaboration, Competition, Confrontation?”

Clark’s lecture is based on his forthcoming book, A Spiritual Geography of Early Chinese Thoughts: Gods, Ancestors, and Afterlife. He has written over 30 books, including others on China, and is the former Senior Research Fellow at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University. He has also served as the director of many interfaith, philosophical and scientific conferences.

When he first traveled to China, Clark didn’t expect to find anyone who believed in what he called a High God: a deity who lives in the sky, removed from the world. These preconceived notions came from people Clark trusted and deemed experts, he said. 

As he researched ancient texts, Clark discovered that people in China did seem to believe in a High God, and they believed their ancestors’ souls existed in the afterlife.

“I began to see, in text, that China was kind of a spirit-haunted world — from malevolent spirits all the way to basically a benevolent High God,” he said. 

Clark’s study of Chinese philosophy began after graduate school. He has never taken a formal course on it, but he has worked with scholars who helped him read and translate original Chinese text, and he has done plenty of his own reading, too. 

Clark said he hopes his book rewrites perceptions of what early Chinese believed. Although focused on early Chinese thought, Clark said he believes this has implications for understanding contemporary China, too. For example, he believes most people in China believe in an afterlife, which he did not think was true before his research. 

After receiving a grant, Clark expanded his book to include research on early Chinese afterlife beliefs. Before that grant, afterlife research wasn’t on his radar, because people told him Chinese didn’t believe in afterlife.

Clark, who also works in cognitive science, wanted to learn how thoughts on the afterlife and High Gods influenced structure, order and rituals in ancient China. 

He also learned there is no such thing as “the Chinese.”

Citing China’s broad history and geography, Clark said he believes there was at one time more than 100 different languages, or dialects, in early China. A written language was eventually developed because they had so many different spoken languages, he said.

“One thing that I think is really important about China is whenever anyone says ‘the Chinese,’ or begins a sentence with ‘the Chinese,’ it’s almost certain to be wrong,” he said. “It’s a really diverse group of people, diverse throughout their long history, well over 2,000 years, and diverse across their really big geography, as well.” 

Clark hopes to make China less mysterious in order to bridge a connection between the East and the West. He said, for one, Chinese versions of God were not that different from Western versions. 

“They’re the next great empire, and we need to work hard to understand them,” he said. 

He hopes people realize that on some level, Americans, or the West, and China, or the East, are similar in their aspirations, beliefs and practices.

“Maybe down deep, we’re not so different,” he said.

Satpal Singh to speak on interfaith peace and unity in final Interfaith Friday perspective of the 2020 season

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Satpal Singh Associate Professor in Biochemistry Pharmacology and Toxicology in Cary Hall on the South Campus
Photographer: Douglas Levere

What do molecular biology, interfaith relations and social justice have in common?

The answer is Satpal Singh. 

Singh received his Ph.D from the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai, India, in molecular biology and went on to train in Germany and the United States. He is currently a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he researches neurodegenerative diseases. 

Before all this, however, Singh narrowly escaped an anti-Sikh pogrom in India. His experience with and survival of religious intolerance led him to become a founding trustee of the Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, as well as to seek to bring peace and harmony to a world torn by hate and violence in the name of religion. 

Singh will conclude Chautauqua Institution’s 2020 Interfaith Friday series exploring creation and humanity during his lecture at 2 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform

A frequent participant in interfaith dialogue on diversity, religion and peace, Singh has represented the Sikh faith in many forums, including delivering a prayer on peace and harmony along with Pope Francis at the 9/11 Memorial in New York City, and organizing Sikh participation in the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City in 2015 and in Toronto in 2018. 

He has organized many retreats between Sikhs and Catholics, and served as a member of the Executive Council of Religions for Peace, USA. 

Singh is also an active participant in discussions around social justice, particularly in gender equality. He has authored many opinion pieces for various publications such as The Washington Post and The Huffington Post

His writings are frequently a call-to-action for unity and peace, something he will discuss in his lecute. In a 2015 article for The Huffington Post, Singh wrote about violence in the name of religion and the forces that drive people apart. 

“Our religion, race, caste or gender does not matter to God or to the laws of nature,” Singh wrote. “A tsunami does not target an atheist preferentially over a Buddhist. An earthquake does not level a Sikh house and leave a Muslim house intact. A wildfire does not come with a list of our affiliations to determine which houses to turn into rubble and which ones to spare.”

Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno is looking forward to Singh’s lecture, and thinks it will be a strong finale for the 2020 Interfaith Lecture Series.

“A native of India, he has brought his Sikh heritage into interfaith dialogues across America and around the world for the causes of diversity, interfaith harmony, social justice, equality and peace,” Rovegno said. “We are so very pleased that he will share his Sikh heritage and wisdom during his lecture.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Psychologist Dr. Robert J. Wicks to lecture on self care and balance for Interfaith Lecture Series

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At one point during his time at Walter Reed Army Hospital, Dr. Robert J. Wicks was approached by a doctor who asked for his help. “He said he was going down the tubes,” Wicks said, “and I told him he couldn’t go straight home from work every day. He said, ‘Why not?’”

Wicks reminded the doctor of the signs in restaurant bathrooms requiring employees to wash their hands before leaving. 

“He was leaving Walter Reed (emotionally) contaminated; bringing it home to his family,” Wicks said. “I told him he needed to debrief before leaving, or even simply sit quietly, letting the dust settle.”

At 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Wicks will help Chautauquans understand the meaning of self-care in his lecture, “Night Call: Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World,” as part of the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series. Author of a book of the same name, he is a clinical psychologist, prolific author and recipient of the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, the highest lay honor of the Catholic Church. Following his lecture, there will be a live Q-and-A session. Viewers are invited to submit questions for Wicks via the submission portal at from any mobile or desktop browser, or on Twitter, using #CHQ2020.

“We have invited Dr. Robert Wicks to conclude our week on the theme, ‘The Future We Want, the World We Need,’” said Maureen Rovegno, Chautauqua’s director of religion, “because for decades he has spoken calm into chaos for individuals and groups experiencing great stress, anxiety and confusion — all of which have been expressed and discussed in our online conversations this Assembly Season.”   

“I practice what might best be called ‘resiliency psychology,’” Wicks said. He assists health care professionals and caregivers in preventing secondary stress, creating balance and distance between themselves and their work. “I teach how to better maintain, and regain, a healthy perspective — (in other words), how to reach out without being pulled down.”

Wicks is a professor emeritus at Loyola University Maryland, and has over 35 years’ experience  in secondary stress prevention. He has spoken to both professionals and laypeople, from the Mayo Clinic to the North American Aerospace Defense Command. He has spoken to and treated caregivers in “20 countries at last count,” including China, Vietnam, India, Thailand, Haiti, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Guatemala, Malta, New Zealand and South Africa. Notably, in 1994, Wicks debriefed relief workers evacuated from Rwanda, assisting them in processing horrific and painful experiences of the genocide. Wicks listened to their stories and provided guidance for post-traumatic stress. 

“They needed to understand,” he said, “that they were not crazy; their situation was.” 

Essentially, he said, “I do darkness for a living. If I’m not careful, I’ll be pulled in.” 

He often debriefs with colleagues, and turns to his own faith for reassurance and balance. He said that the three most important elements to his practice are “presence to self, presence to others, and presence to something greater — in my case, my faith.”

Rovegno thinks there is no better time to hear from Wicks. 

“The cumulative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the undeniable awareness of racial injustices, the deprivations of social and economic inequalities, and the terror of climate degradation and examples of suffering humanity across the globe,” she said, have necessitated a deeper look at how people practice self-care and remain resilient.

When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Wicks said, “as doctors and nurses, we must recognize the guilt” borne of the inability to save everyone, as well as “the fear of bringing infection home” to families. 

“Guilt and vulnerability are natural,” he said. For people in general, a common stressor is the over-consumption of news media. 

“We only need five minutes to get the news,” he said. Anything longer, he said, is detrimental to a person’s health. 

Wicks also cautioned against dreaming of a new normal. 

“It’s nice to have a fantasy,” he said. “But instead, think of the advantages (to the current situation). Be intrigued by new opportunities, new talents. Help yourself to access silence and solitude (even during lockdown). Create a schedule. … Instead of drifting or dripping through the day, flow through it.” 

Rovegno is excited to hear Wicks’ perspective and suggestions for a healthier way forward. 

“Dr. Wicks will point us to the future we want and the world that we need,” she said, “not just to survive, but to thrive.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Jeremy Ben-Ami from J Street to describe two-state solution as path forward for future peace between Israel and Palestine


Jeremy Ben-Ami’s lecture, “Israel-Palestine 2020: One State Remains the Problem & Two States the Solution” follows the Rev. Mitri Raheb’s talk on the same subject from a Palestinian Christian perspective. Raheb said in his lecture a day prior that a growing U.S. Jewish movement for a two-state solution makes him hopeful for Palestine’s future. Ben-Ami is a leader in that movement in Washington D.C., as a founder of the advocacy organization J Street.


“J Street said we have to work for a two-state solution. We have to find a compromise,” Raheb said during his lecture. “Not because they love the Palestinians so much, but because Israel cannot be a democratic country and a Jewish country at the same time.”

Ben-Ami’s lecture will be released at 2 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 26, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture aligns with the Week Nine Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, the World We Need.” Director of Religion Maureen Rovegno said that Ben-Ami represents the same progressive Judaism that Rabbi Sid Schwarz presented during Week Eight’s Interfaith Friday

“(Ben-Ami’s) organization J Street would be very much in the vanguard of seeking justice in all kinds of capacities,” Rovegno said.

In 2008, Ben-Ami founded J Street to influence the U.S. government to pressure Israel to move toward a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine. What is now the country of Israel has occupied Palestine since the late 19th century. Under Israel’s president, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel is still edging Palestinians out of their homes and is attempting to annex the West Bank

Ben-Ami’s connection to Israel traces back to his great-grandparents who left present-day Russia, which persecuted Jews for practicing their religion and culture. They were some of the first settlers of the present-day city of Petah Tikvah, the first modern agricultural settlement in what would become Israel. His father, Yitshaq, was part of the Irgun militia which smuggled Jews into Palestine.

“He was a terrorist,” Ben-Ami said for the Princeton Alumni Weekly in 2009. “He raised money for the cause, but also fought. (The Irgun) blew up buildings, used violence for political purposes, and believed they had legitimate reasons.”

Ben-Ami said in the same interview with his alma mater that the key to Israel continuing to exist as a legitimate state rests on its treatment of Palestinians.

“I believe that the single greatest threat to the future of Israel as a democratic home for the Jewish people is the failure to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians,” Ben-Ami said. “If it is not resolved, Israel’s existence as a Jewish democracy is at stake.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

Bishop Minerva Carcaño to start last week of Interfaith Lectures with talk on the need for ‘beloved community’


When contemplating this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, the World We Need,” Bishop Minerva Carcaño had to ask herself, “What is the world we need?”


“I believe the world we need is one where we belong in beloved community, all of us,” Carcaño said. “I believe that’s a basic human yearning, and it’s part of our creation, … (but) we’re not living that way.”

Her talk, “The World We Need — Belonging in Beloved Community” will air at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Carcaño is the bishop of the United Methodist Church’s California-Nevada Conference. In 2004, she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected to the episcopacy of the UMC. Carcaño has spent her career advocating for immigration reform, racial justice, LGBTQ rights and full LGBTQ inclusion within the church.

“Christians are called to love,” she said. “To love everyone, to love the world, to love others as we love ourselves; (it’s) the Second Commandment, second only to loving God. I think that we need to focus on that.”

Her passion for working with immigrants, refugees, farm workers and those in poverty was inspired by her experiences growing up in Edinburg, Texas.

“I come from an immigrant background,” Carcaño said. “I come from the Southern border region of the country. I come from deep poverty. I’m a Hispanic woman, (and) I’m one of the few woman bishops in the mainline denomination.”

For her lecture, Carcaño will speak about what Christians are called to do to create a more loving community, and the consequences of failing to do so.

“The immigration situation is one sign of our brokenness as a human community,” she said, “also certainly racism, and racial inequity.”

Inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, in May, Carcaño started re-reading the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., and found them to be a source of comfort and inspiration in the last few months.

“His word is so relevant,” she said. “The truth that he spoke is true for us today, as well. We should not forget the words of such a prophet.”

Carcaño is also an advocate for interfaith relations. She emphasizes that the love Christians are called to exhibit is sacrificial, and directed toward all people.

“We believe God created everyone in the whole world; we’re all stewards together,” she said. “We do not as Christians know the totality of God — no one does — otherwise God would not be God. … We will only really truly be people who are Christian or Jewish or Buddist or Hindu by sitting at a table together and hearing one experience of God (and) affirming love of one another, and together assuming care for one another around the globe and for creation itself.”

The topic of “The Future We Want” hits particularly close to home for Methodists at the moment. In May, due to the global pandemic, the UMC was forced to pospone its annual conference, a conference that would have included a vote on splitting the church over disagreements regarding same-sex marriage and LGBTQ inclusion. 

Carcaño sends her “blessing along their way” to the Methodist traditionalists who advocate for strengthening bans on LBGTQ-inclusive practices, but hopes for a future without exclusion.

“My hope is that the United Methodist Church would live out what it says when we proclaim that we are all of sacred worth, when we proclaim that we are all created by God,” she said. “We have no place to stand in terms of exclusion of (an) LGBTQ person. … Jesus went to the margins, where people had been ostracized, to demonstrate that we are not to forget anyone, and we are not to exclude anyone. That’s my hope for our United Methodist Church, that we would remember this scriptural truth and the witness of Jesus to our lives.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine Program Sponsor Erie Insurance and the Joan Brown Campbell Department of Religion Endowment.

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