SUSAN MURPHY: Good evening, everybody, and welcome tonight. I'm Susan Murphy. I'm Vice President for Student and Academic Services at Cornell University, and it's my distinct honor and privilege to welcome you to the celebration of Cornell United Religious works 80th anniversary. In the life of the institution of religion, or the institution of higher education, 80 years is but a nanosecond. But in the world of American higher education with the assemblage of a multifaith community, one might think that 80 years is almost an eon.
As I think about Cornell's founding back in the mid-1800s, perhaps the creation of Cornell United Religious Work was predetermined as we were brought together as a community by Ezra Cornell and Andrew Dickson White as a pioneer in the creation of a university that was non-sectarian. And yet if you read Cornell's history, perhaps this multifaith community was not quite so predetermined. It is true that our founder Ezra Cornell was absolutely committed to having a university that could not be dominated by any faith, and in fact was welcoming of those who had no faith.
Whether that was because he had been expelled from membership in the Society of Friends, or because he had married a non-Quaker, or because of his own background, he was absolutely committed to not have any church organization-- and here I quote Glenn Altschuler in his autobiography of Andrew Dickson White-- Cornell was dedicated to not having any church organization to place themselves between him and the divine master, and to attempt to exclude him from the right of worship.
Of course, he found a kindred soul in Andrew Dickson White, who was also absolutely committed to non-sectarianism, but was also a strong defender of the critical role that religion needed to play in the life of Cornell. While the founding of Cornell University was often described as the creation of the godless university, White was absolute in his emphasis on the religious character of Cornell, saying-- and again, here I quote his own writing-- religion was an absolute pressing and increasing need. And in fact, Cornell at its early founding, was really within the tradition of the Christian tradition in many, many ways. And the non-sectarianism, as I've come to appreciate, was really across the many different Christian faiths, not across all faiths.
But as Cornell developed, this passion and this commitment to a multifaith community was indeed critical to the institution. When we renovated Sage Hall, which was built at Cornell University to house women so that our vision of being coeducational could actually have a reality by having a place for women to live on campus-- there was a letter that was in the cornerstone of Sage Hall from Ezra Cornell. And I think if you had surveyed any Cornell alum at the time, they were convinced that that letter would it be about coeducational because, of course, Sage Hall was built for women on the campus.
But let me read you the letter that was written on May 15, 1873, in Ithaca.
"To the coming man and woman, on the occasion of the laying of the cornerstone of Sage College for women of Cornell University, I desire to say that the principal danger, and I say almost the only danger I see in the future to be encountered by the friends of education and by all lovers of true liberty, is that which may arise from sectarian strife.
From these halls, sectarianism must be forever excluded. All students must be left free to worship God as their conscience shall dictate, and all persons of any creed or all creeds must find free and easy access and a hearty and equal welcome to the educational facilities possessed by Cornell University. Coeducation of the sexes and entire freedom from sectarian and political preference is the only proper and safe way for providing an education that shall meet the wants of the future and carry out the founders' idea of an institution"-- and here I quote what we all know-- "any person can find instruction in any study. I herewith with commit this great trust to your care. Signed, Ezra Cornell, 1873."
Right after World War II, Cornell indeed was blessed-- and I choose that word-- to be given a gift by Myron Taylor to build the first multifaith center on a college campus in the building of Annabel Taylor Hall. Myron Taylor knew well that there were many other priorities of the university at the time, but coming after World War II, and in his own belief, this, in his mind, was the gift that was needed for the university.
And here I quote at his dedication of that building. "Religion is the greatest force in the world today. Annabel Taylor Hall, as an interfaith center, is built on the simple conception that we are all believers in God and human liberty, and that people of all faiths must stand together for good and against evil."
So that is the tradition our university brings together in the creation of Cornell United Religious Work, about which you'll hear a bit more from my colleague Ken Clarke, an organization that was created in 1929-- ergo our 80 plus years of celebration-- and an organization that has had as its history a commitment to social justice, religious pluralism, secular humanism, and in today's world, a connection with science.
I'm so pleased to see so many of you here this evening for what I know will be a fascinating dialogue, and I thank our presenters for being a part of this 80th anniversary celebration. And now it is my honor to invite to the podium and recognize my colleague Ken Clarke, our director of Cornell United Religious Work. Ken, thank you for coming.
KEN CLARKE: President Skorton, Provost Fox, Vice President Murphy, Vice President Pfleger, trustees, our distinguished panel, faculty, staff, chaplains, alumni, guests, good evening. Thank you for taking the time from your busy schedules to join us on this special occasion. Certainly there are many things to do in the city that never sleeps. But you have chosen to be here with us tonight to join with us in the 80th anniversary celebration of Cornell United Religious Work.
Cornell United religious work, at its founding in 1929, we can say with fair certainty, was the first intentionally multifaith religious organization on a major American college campus. Livingston Farrand, Cornell's fourth president, wrote in 1937 that CURW represented-- and I quote him-- "the first example, in my experience in an American University, where Protestant and Catholic, Christian and Jew, and other religionists have been brought together in one organization, and where they work together toward a common end," unquote.
To us in 2010, against the backdrop of the great recession, it may seem unremarkable to have a multifaith organization comprised now of 30 groups under one roof. However, to bring Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and then Unitarians and Quakers, within one organization in the late 1920s and early 1930s at the inception of the Great Depression was no small feat. This was the hour religious historians have called the Protestant establishment of religion, that is, the religious, cultural, political, and economic dominance of Protestantism as de facto American religion.
This was the dominant ethos in the society at large, including higher education. In that era, it was not even easy to bring Protestants together in an association, not to speak of those of different faiths. Some would say today, in 2010, it's still not easy to bring Protestants together.
Reverend Richard Henry Edwards, for whom the Edwards Roman Annabel Taylor Hall is named, laid the groundwork for improved ecumenical relations between the campus and the university among Protestants between 1900 and 1929, his first 10 years as director of what was then called the Cornell University Christian Association, CUCA. I need not remind most of you that most everything at Cornell must be distilled to an acronym.
He was also responsive enough to growing Jewish and Roman Catholic communities to incorporate them. A name change was required to reflect the new religious reality on campus, what Edwards called an experiment in cooperative religion. CURW represented something novel, against the grain, unaffiliated with, or rather, I should say, in a manner consistent with Cornell's founding as a non-sectarian university unaffiliated with or controlled by any specific Protestant denomination as a private yet land grant institution.
The foundation had been laid for the rise of today's religious diversity, a diversity reflected in tonight's panel. The emergence of CURW as a multifaith organization could not have been better time for students, such as Philip Hershkovitz class of 1934. As his son Ed wrote in a recent email, he arrived in effect in the fall of 1930, I quote, with an agile mind, a Cornell scholarship, and very little cash at a time when students had to find their own housing and Jews were not always welcome as tenants. Some 60 years later, in defiance of his struggle with Alzheimer's disease, Philip recalled CURW's role in his Cornell experience.
As his son Ed prepared to take a position at Cornell in 1993, Philip said, "When you get to Cornell, find a place called CURW. They'll be very helpful. They can show you a place to live. CURW. Ed wrote, "Well into the dementia that stole his brilliant mind of its memory, my father remembered how important Cornell United Religious Works had been to him.
This vignette symbolizes the story of the real work of CURW for 80 years, helping those who traverse the terrain of Cornell on their journey, being a resource for those who face personal, social, and structural obstacles, serving as a conduit for information, supporting those who grapple with the meaning and purpose of life at the nexus of spirit and intellect, encouraging the participation in the faith community or communities of one's choosing, being present in time of gain and joy and of sorrow and death and loss, providing a space to contemplate and engage the intersection of religion and life.
The conversation to which you've been invited tonight is a reflection of the intersection of religion and public life. What does religion have to say to the common life within which we exist? How can it, in the words of Vanderbilt scholar Victor Anderson, integrate the various languages of the multiple communities, religious and secular, of discourse that constitute public life?
Tonight's program is an attempt to contribute to this discussion. We have a distinguished, indeed august, panel to grapple with the way religion interfaces with four significant issues within public life, social justice, religious pluralism, secular humanism, and science. And it is most notable that we have as part of this discussion a president and provost of a major university willing to engage in conversation about religion. This is not an everyday occurrence.
I would now like to ask our panelists, starting with President David Skorton, to tell us in brief form, approximately two minutes--
DAVID SKORTON: I'll be timing it.
KEN CLARKE: I know that's a challenge, but I want to make sure we get to our program. But we wanted to allow each speaker to give something of a preamble of how they understand their role in tonight's program, and then we will move forward into discussion. President Skorton, please lead off.
DAVID SKORTON: Ken, thank you so much. And thank you for your expansive sense of humor in asking me to talk for two minutes. That's terrific, terrific. Remind me in about 10 minutes what you said.
It is an astonishing honor to be asked to participate in this tonight. And far from you being glad that I did this, I'm so glad that you wrote me some months ago with your very, very good idea. And I'm honored to be a small part of this panel, and I'm looking forward to learning from all of you-- you too, Ken -- and through you from the traditions that you represent here tonight. And I appreciate the fact that everyone has come.
A couple of quick thoughts. I believe very strongly that one of the central roles of a university, not just this university but universities in general, here and elsewhere, is to strengthen the values that students need to develop lives that are meaningful. And religion, philosophy, secular humanism, all the traditions that are represented here tonight, and more generally what I call the classical and inspirational literature that deal with the art of living, contribute very, very well to the quandaries with which we are faced in this modern world.
When one looks at the world's wisdom literature, which I have done through the lens of a Jewish background for my 60 years, one finds, astonishingly, also, a relatively small number of themes-- at least I have found-- that come up over and over again in writings across religious groups. I quake at bringing up my conclusions from the wisdom literature, but I'll plunge ahead anyway.
I have lived in the Jewish tradition my entire life, and I've had a strong interest in many of the other traditions up here, especially in secular humanism, Buddhism, and Islam. And in all of these traditions which vary tremendously in the basic underpinnings, but not so tremendously in what I believe is behind them, I think we find the following commonalities-- the assumption of some fundamental laws of life that most people intuitively understand and help them choose the right thing to do; the power to personally choose a course of action and learn from the consequences, positive or negative; a connection to nature, or as is our cliche these days, a larger ecosystem, some variation of the Golden Rule; and a belief in altruism.
I think this is true for all the traditions represented here tonight. And one surprising, perhaps surprising, source of entry into this literature, in addition to taking the time and energy to look at the scriptures themselves, is a book by Stephen Covey, a book that you'll find not in the religion or philosophy, but in the management section of the bookstore or library called First Things First.
And you can pass over the first several pages of the book, and in the appendix he has a review of what he calls the wisdom literature. And it's one of the very, very helpful entrees into literally all the traditions that you will see up here tonight, if you want to have one place to look.
Tho other quick thought, Ken, before I yield the floor, is to your left, to my right is Ken Fox, the university's provost. And he has assigned a very distinguished faculty member, Ed Lawler, former dean of ILR, the unenviable task of producing the university's first truly comprehensive strategic plan encompassing the Weill Cornell Medical College and the Ithaca campus.
In this draft strategic plan, which is on the website and which was produced although with input elsewhere, entirely by a group of eight faculty devoid of bureaucrats, the following skills needed for successful living are listed as goals for what the faculty hope the students will leave Cornell with.
And to complete my comments, I want to tell you what that plan says the students should leave with in addition to the knowledge in their disciplinary areas. Multicultural competence, moral and ethical awareness, self-management, by which is meant the ability to care for one's self responsibly, demonstrating awareness of one's self in relation to others, and community engagement.
What a very positive thing to come out of a strategic planning process. What a selfless and broad view of what we want to leave with our students. Ken, thanks for making me a part of this.
KENT FUCHS: So thank you, Ken. I'm really impressed with the turnout tonight. Thank you all for coming. This is an unusual event, to have a panel which is sponsored not just by CURW, but by the President's Office, and one that focuses on religion and public life and the role of religion, actually, on campus as well. I think many of you here that are alumni and are graduates of Cornell were touched in some way by either CURW or another religious organization on campus and your participation with that. And for many of you, your lives were affected probably profoundly when your time at Cornell, not just through the classes you took, but through the organizations that had something to do with CURW.
I'm one of those individuals myself. I wasn't at Cornell, but at another university, and had my life profoundly touched by a religious organization. As part of that process, I actually spent three years in seminary after engineering studies. And as I tell the president frequently to lower his expectations, I wasn't good at the sermon part of the seminary. So I went back to being a professor.
We were asked to talk about our role. I think I have two roles. One is just that this is an area that I feel profoundly is important, the role of religion in not just our students' lives, but actually the academic lives of our faculty and the university itself. And it is something that I encourage when I can and respect deeply.
And the second is just what I believe is also the growing part of that importance in our lives. Religion in public life, religion on the university, is something we read about, we hear about, and is something that faculty care more deeply about as time goes on, much of it personal and not visible, but to a growing degree, also visibly.
One of the great experiences, if you ever are on campus and you want to see the activities of religious groups on campus, go through Annabel Taylor, look at the chalkboards. You'll see the day is full of meetings of students getting together from all different kinds of faiths, many of them represented on this group here today.
So thank you, David, for allowing this to occur, and Ken Clarke and the other groups that are here from CURW.
JAN WILLIS: My name is Jan Willis, and I'm really happy to be here this evening, happy to see so many of you. I am a proud Cornell alumna, class of 1969. I'm now a professor of religion. I teach mainly Buddhism at Wesleyan University. And I need to tell you, just a minute or so, a little of my background. It's connected with what I do and how I think about the world and how I think about education.
Cornell offered me a scholarship in '65. It was a full scholarship. I appreciate it. I was coming from a mining camp outside of Birmingham, Alabama called Docena, or as I think now, probably Docena. It probably meant the 12th mine. My father was a steelworker, so he was one of the few African-Americans in that place, that little town, whose livelihood didn't depend on the mine. Everyone else's did. It was a little tiny hamlet of 300 or so people, and there was a street that divided black from white.
I grew up in the Jim Crow South with the white drinking fountains and the colored drinking fountains, so it was as though that scholarship was a lifeline from Cornell. But before that, in '63, I had the great privilege of marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the Birmingham campaign. And so that was the beginning of a personal spiritual journey, and it was also political at the same time. And it was triumphant. In the next year, we had the Civil Rights bill signed.
But it was two years after '63-- a lot happened in '63, but two years after that, when I got a scholarship to Cornell and a number of other universities, that the KKK marched and burned a cross in front of my house. And so in '69, when there was another episode like this far away from Docena. I had to get involved.
So my life has been one of going on a sort of personal journey. I've written about this, and written about my time at Cornell and part of that. But it's been important to me not to stand pat, not to just be quiet, but to get engaged. I appreciate your comments about that.
I think it's important for all of us. It's important for our spiritual life, literally for our spiritual life, that we have responsibility to others, that we implement altruism, that we are compassionate to one another, that we develop spiritually a responsibility, and a responsibility for each other cause we're connected. By virtue of being human beings-- I'm going on. I hear myself. Sorry. I'm sure I'm past two minutes-- but by virtue of being human beings.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama often says, we all wish happiness and we all wish to avoid suffering. In this respect we are exactly alike. So sure, we should appreciate diversity. Sure, we should have multiculturalism. But we should do more than that. Just it's very basic that we are connected. And I think we have to build our lives upon that wisdom, that knowledge.
So I come from teaching at Wesleyan, where I see students today who are desirous of some religious guidance. But they come from a school, Wesleyan-- sorry. Some of you know it-- where probably out of defensiveness, you know, it was a long time ago. We broke those connections with John Wesleyan. But I come from a school where it's difficult to practice a religious life outside the closet, some students say.
So I come from a place like that, and I think the students suffer as a result. And I'm here tonight. I'm happy to be here. I'm deeply concerned with religious values, and values in general, that connect us one with the other, and I look forward to this conversation. Sorry for going on.
INGRID MADSEN: Well, good evening. Good evening. I'm Ingrid Madsen, and I am here first and foremost because I was invited by Reverend Janet Shortall, who's been a great mentor to my chaplaincy students. For those of you who don't know her, she's the associate director CURW. I'm the founder of the until now still only accredited Islamic chaplaincy program at Hartford Seminary. So I send my students out for field education, and Janet has been a great mentor to them, wonderful. And thank you to everyone, to the leaders of Cornell, for putting this on.
I was excited about the topic of this panel because it's different than many of the topics I'm asked to address because it included humanism and secularism. And I was excited about that because I feel that we're reaching a point where there's a kind of war of extremism between a kind of extremist, secularist identity and extremist religious identity.
I feel that there's not a lot of dialogue. There's not a lot of understanding. There's a lot of what we might call false witness, saying about the other things that are not simply true or accurate about them. And I want this dialogue because I'll tell you, even though Christopher Hitchens attacks religion-- he attacks my religion sometimes in a very hurtful way, he says things that are absolutely untrue, sets up these straw horses and pulls them down about my religion-- still, when I read his reviews in The Atlantic, I am so moved by his writing. And he gives me such pleasure by what he contributes to just literature.
And I say, well, there's something that we can connect on, the beauty of the written word. But why do we have to have this weird kind of cultural war, proxy war that's happening in the popular media?
And I was on the stage once with-- actually, it was kind of a setup. I was in Toronto at a place called the City of Ideas, where I was told we were going to speak, a number of religious people were going to speak one after another, 20 minutes on stage just sort of by ourselves to give her idea, and then the next person would come on.
I arrived there in Toronto, and I was told, OK, you're going on right after Richard Dawkins. So he came up. had these other religious people. And then Richard Dawkins came up, and I had to jump on stage right after him. And I said to him, you're absolutely right. We are so deluded about God. In fact, most of my religious teachings are about how to stop being so deluded and conflating my will and my desire with God's will and desire.
So I agree with you about a lot of those things. And we need that critique, and we do that critique, but we even need more. So let's talk about it. But I'd like you also to hear what I believe from my perspective, and not for you to speak on my behalf. And that's what dialogue is about.
I'm concerned. I'm concerned when I hear what's happening in Europe, where there's such a homogeneous view of citizenship that there are women in my community who are banned from dressing like this in schools and in places of worship. They're infantilized. I mean, there is an idea that--and this is the problem with the idea of an objective good-- their rights are being taken away on the justification of some objective good that some people have decided and imposed on them as if they're children and can't make decisions for themselves.
I'm concerned that my people in my community also don't understand well enough that there is such a solid common ground, not only by common sense and experience, but even in my tradition to support the belief that people can be good without God, and that there are some universal public goods that we can all agree on.
And so I feel a sense of urgency. I feel that we need to address these issues honestly and openly because there's political violence occurring. There are people who are very hurt. Most people don't rise up and object, but they feel alienated because they feel hurt and misunderstood. And so I think it's an excellent dialogue. But I'm being cut off.
GREG EPSTEIN: Thank you. I'm also really grateful to be here. And I'm glad to add a humanist perspective to a wonderful panel. And I'm truly grateful to everyone at United Religious Work and to President Skorton and the provost for taking the time to be at an event like this. It's a wonderful anniversary, and I'm delighted to help celebrate it.
So as the humanist chaplain at Harvard, I direct an organization, The Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard, that is dedicated to building, educating, and nurturing a diverse community of humanists, atheists, agnostics, and the non-religious at Harvard and beyond. And it's a wonderful privilege to be among a small but growing group of people who are doing that kind of work on campuses today, and particularly at Harvard, where we've had a full-time chaplaincy for a long time. It was full time, but very, very small.
And I've been there for five years now. And it's become, I think, quite substantial, and growing every day quite a bit. And I think that there is a real need for this. There are a billion people in the world today who define themselves as non-religious. And one in every four to five Americans aged 18 to 25 define themselves today as non-religious.
So when we begin to have this discussion for this generation on American campuses, I think that it really is increasingly essential to include a humanist and/or non-religious perspective, and we can talk about definitions later. But thank you for recognizing that and allowing me to be in that role tonight.
And so what is humanism, first of all? I could go on with definitions. For right now what I'll just say is that humanists believe that there is one world, one and only world, the natural world. Science is an imperfect but the best tool we humans have ever had to determine the nature of that world. But within that one world, we've got one shot, therefore, one chance to get it right, one chance to live well.
And so we feel a tremendous sense of urgency to live well, to do good, to build a good society, a good community for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the sake of all human beings, and for the sake of the entire natural world that surrounds us and sustains us, and that we've placed in great danger. See case in point, Louisiana.
And we do that by means of the Golden Rule. I mean, this is the one tradition that all religions share in common. Do unto others, or that which is equal, don't do unto others. There's no theistic statement being made there. There are many ways in which we can understand that statement, but it's not necessary to have a theistic element to that statement.
And so humanism is essentially-- and this is why I titled the book Good Without God. But only if the emphasis of humanness is not just on the without God, it's on the good. And I'm hopeful that we can talk about the good from religious and non-religious perspectives tonight.
I could have very easily titled the book, if I'd wanted to go on, Good and Bad With or Without God because it's not to say that we're you know that I'm somehow deluded into thinking that you can only be good without God. Of course you can be good with God. And we've got to be able to have a better conversation, a more effective conversation than simply sort of rhetorically sniping at one another. These kinds of conversations are either going to be a true dialogue, or they're going to be a circular firing squad. And so I hope we can avoid that, and I'm grateful for the chance.
ALAN FLAM: Thank you. I'm Alan Flam. Thanks for inviting me to be part of this 80th anniversary celebration for Cornell United Religious Work. Having spent my entire rabbinic career, 34 years on a college campus, university campus. I applaud the vision of Cornell for establishing and supporting and continuing to support this multifaith effort.
So why would a great university like Cornell or the university where I work, Brown, support this work? Our work usually does not enhance the academic reputation of the institution. As far as I know, US News and World Report's grading of college campuses doesn't factor in a robust chaplaincy as part of their metric for rating college campuses and university campuses.
For the most part, we do not attract research money or academic support or money for other capital projects. And usually our work on campus doesn't garner much attention outside of our own campuses. Most of us, most chaplains that I know of, while well-spoken and hardworking, we're really happy to focus our work on our students, faculty, alumni, and staff.
So what distinguishes chaplaincy work on a campus? What makes CURW worthy of 80 years of support and a panel in New York City that features the president and the provost and distinguished colleagues and a roomful of supporters like yourselves? I'm not sure I can give a definitive answer, certainly not in this short introduction. But I really hope that that's part of our conversation among us tonight, that we might be able to shed some light on why this is a worthy enterprise.
But I will try to make just two very brief points to try to at least begin to answer my question. First, I believe that all of the traditions represented on this panel, all of us sitting here-- Christian, Buddhist, humanist, Muslim, Jewish-- have at their core teachings and stories that reach into the depths of universal life experience-- temptation, rivalry, love, faith, doubt, leadership, journey, liberation-- they're all our stories that we share in various ways.
And our texts, the texts that ground us in our lives and our traditions, are certainly rooted in a time and a place and a cultural context, as we are all. Yet they all drink the same water of life and breathe the air of this planet. Our work, the work of chaplain, centers on the failings and triumphs of human beings. And so, I believe, should the work of the university.
If education is a transformative process-- and when it works, when it's good, as you talked about in the strategic plan-- those are transformative ideas that you hope students gain in their time at a university-- then it makes sense to have our individual traditions represented on a college campus and our collective work together represented as well as we struggle to talk to one another, to work together, to work with students, to work in the community.
Second-- and I think this is work that chaplains do extraordinarily well-- we work in the interstices. We work best in all of those in-between places of the university, places where we can serve as connectors between students, with one another, student groups, between students and faculty, between faculty and administration, between administration and community members and alumni members. Chaplains have an ability-- perhaps it's a freedom, I think-- to really work effectively in these in-between places.
And sometimes I believe it's our job to speak truth to power. But I think, hopefully, we'll get to that as well. When Jack Lewis, Reverend Jack Lewis, the longtime director of CURW, died, he was eulogized as quote, "a minister of reconciliation," and I also quote, "a key campus figure in the 1960s, smoothing relationships between faculty, administrators, and students. He left behind a legacy of graciousness toward the failing of others, compassion for those who were hurting, and a brand of social justice advocacy that punched holes in religious and racial barriers." That's the kind of work that I want to be associated with, and that I hope my university and Cornell will continue to support. Thank you.
KEN CLARKE: Alan provided the perfect segue for our first question, which will deal with social justice. And thank all of you for your statements. But as we look at social justice and begin to grapple with the first question, there is the notion that our country, our society, and religious communities themselves, have embraced the practice of good deeds or charity as an approach to ameliorating social injustice.
But what is the role, as I think you have well alluded to and articulated, what is the role of the prophetic voice rooted in the faith traditions that calls individuals and communities to personal as well as social transformation in the discourse of social change in politics? That's one question. Then there's a sub question that could be answered as well, is what is the difference between charity and justice? So that's our first question to grapple with.
I'm here to facilitate the discussion.
INGRID MADSEN: Are we just raising hands?
KEN CLARKE: Just wade in wherever you see fit.
ALAN FLAM: I'm happy to talk about this. This is, I think, a lot of the work I do at Center for Public Service at Brown. You know, there's a fundamental Jewish text that I was taught, [SPEAKING HEBREW]. The world is really founded on three principles, on Torah, on worship, and on deeds of loving kindness.
And I think for much of my life, and even much of my rabbinical life and life on the campus, I used to teach this text proudly, and I believed that deeds of loving kindness, along with study and worship, could sustain the world. But more and more, I've come to believe-- and I think this may touch on the charity and justice question-- I've come to believe that the practice of loving kindness, while certainly admirable, while generous, and while necessary-- can also have inadvertent and unacknowledged negative consequences if-- if-- and I really emphasize that if-- if it's the primary way that we relate to the world around us.
There are times, I believe, when these acts of loving kindness, things like contributing to a coat drive, or running in a relay for life, or organizing a canned goods collection-- and you can add to that list, I'm sure-- I believe these things really distract us. They can distract us. They can lull us into a kind of self-congratulatory apathy regarding critical political and social issues. And they turn our attention away from the systematic injustices that continue to mount up all around us, things like poverty, educational inequity, and racial discrimination.
We must not lose sight of the structural nature of the problems that surround us. That's the justice work that we have to do, not just the deeds of loving kindness. We might serve meals at a soup kitchen, but we need to think about why it is that so many people keep coming week after week after week. And I believe we have to ask these questions together.
Now to the prophetic voice, because I love the prophets. But I think it's really important to not overly romanticize their work as well. The prophets were not particularly popular people in their time. They're the kind of people that probably many of you know. They walk into a room and you want to run the other way because you know they're going to be on your case and in your ear, and they're not going to let go because they are convinced that the injustices that they are talking about need to be addressed, not just by themselves, but by you.
So I believe that as chaplains, we need, occasionally, to invoke the prophetic voice. But we also have to realize that part of our work as well is building, in a sustainable way, movements of people to come to issues because they believe they can change and want to change those issues, not because they're feeling harangued into doing the work that needs to be done.
KEN CLARKE: Thank you, Alan. Are there other responses from our panel?
GREG EPSTEIN: I'll comment on your point because actually, to sort of take responsibility for the other side, from a humanist perspective, humanists, secular people, people who have stepped outside of traditional religious affiliation or identification, but very much engaged with public life, have, I think, a really long tradition of looking very carefully at the sort of systemic issues involved in social justice and the social gospel, which goes back to the 19th century in this country. And it's a sort of combination of a religious and secular thinkers that I'm very proud of the contributions, intellectually, of the secular and humanist thinkers involved in all of that.
But what I've seen to be missing in my own community since discovering the fact that there is an organized movement called humanism, that there are institutions, and even, sometimes, things like chaplaincies in the humanist world, what I've felt was missing with the other side of it, which was getting out and going and doing, in the name of your own community, the individual acts of social justice, the individual acts of creating a better world.
And so for example, I could talk to a lot of secular thinkers about something like the situation in New Orleans. And I mention this because I have a friend, a chaplain friend at Harvard, who is a University Christian Fellowship and evangelical chaplain who I know has been going down to New Orleans every spring break with his students to work on both learning about systemic issues, and then doing something about them.
And we talked, and we said, you know, the humanists ought to go along with you. And so we said, you know what, maybe that's a pretty good idea. Let's organize a trip together. And we started meeting. And it was his grad students and my grad students. And we were planning on taking a trip down there together to stay in the same church and do the same work and that sort of thing, when ultimately we discovered that the church, unfortunately, that his students were planning on staying at was also inviting another 120, 150 evangelical students from around the country that were not open to the kind of even-handed and equally worked out participation of humanists that he and I had been planning.
So we were going to wear t-shirts with each other's messages on them, and we were going to plan out the discussions before and after the day's work together. But the evangelicals down there weren't amenable to this. So we ended up needing to take separate trips and do similar work alongside one another. But we did. We got to meet, we got to exchange stories while we were down there.
And it's a beginning. We need to do more work sort of on the ground providing an ethical alternative to traditional religion, not simply railing against religion in order to further the conversation.
INGRID MADSEN: That moves into a point I would like to make about this separation between an individual responsibility and a kind of collective responsibility. Islamic ethics has a fundamental classification between these two things, something called a [NON-ENGLISH] a [NON-ENGLISH], which is an individual responsibility and then a collective responsibility.
And the individual responsibility are things like-- and this is why we have to be careful of using the same names in every tradition to mean the same thing. What charity means in Islam doesn't mean that you are doing a favor for someone. The charity is [NON-ENGLISH]. [NON-ENGLISH] means to be truthful. It's to be truthful to yourself, to to have sincerity, that you're doing what you say you should do, so that the individual charitable act can be, like the prophet Muhammad said, simply smiling at your neighbor. It's something that the poor can do as well as the rich. Charity is not in the purview of the rich in Islamic ethics. It's something that everyone should do every day.
But doing your individual responsibility obligations does not mean that you've fulfilled your collective responsibility. And that's where the society, the community has to develop institutions that are able to fulfill and address things like social injustices. And if the community fails to create those mechanisms, then everyone in the community bears the burden of sin. But if collectively we do it together, then as an individual, I don't have to be involved in every single collective obligation.
But what I think is important in a globalized world, and I've argued this in an article, is that I have to expand that category beyond my Muslim community now because the needs are so profound, they're so complicated that I cannot be serious about addressing the structural injustices if I say I'm just going to do it with the Muslim community. It's not going to get done because the powers out there are so immense.
So I have to work with everyone who I can join with for that cause to address that injustice, or else theologically, I will be sinful. So that, I think, is a way for us to understand not just the nicety of working together, but the absolute imperative of doing it.
KEN CLARKE: I think certainly there is a model for that if one looks at the civil rights movement, the black freedom struggle in broad strokes of the '50s and '60s in which you had a movement that certainly had a strong religious base, although as Gayraud Wilmore, the religious historian, has indicated, only a relatively small modicum of African-American churches were involved in that struggle. But they worked with secular organizations such as the NAACP Corps, the National Urban League, religionists, so to speak. And those who were atheists or agnostics worked together for a common goals.
So there is a model in that sense, in that regard. But I think, too, the way in which you responded to the question also addresses another matter that Stanley Fish brought up in a New York Times article some months ago, this whole issue of what he calls intellectual apartheid, the sort of notion that, for instance, beliefs that matters of the spirit belong to the realm of religion. But the public problems of in, equity and social order should be solved, for instance, by politicians, who settle these things by secular reasoning. And so I think that what's proposed here is something that overcomes that sort of intellectual apartheid that Fish talks about.
DAVID SKORTON: Could you move over so I could see my colleague just for a second? Don't go too far. It's wonderful to have you here, too.
KEN CLARKE: I so appreciate that.
DAVID SKORTON: So pretend, in some dreamy way, that we could have this kind of conversation more broadly, where the first piece of communication is listening first. And I'm resonating, Ingrid, with something you said in your opening remarks. I'm going to get it wrong. I'm going to paraphrase it incorrectly, but where-- I'm a mandatory reporter, but that's something different.
Well, the fact that you implored us to listen to you instead of representing you. So I've spent a lot of time reading about and holy Quran in translation. I didn't know it's [NON-ENGLISH], if I'm pronouncing it right with a cuff in there. Perhaps it's related to [HEBREW] in Hebrew. So to learn more deeply, in a more three-dimensional way about where you're coming from would be the first step in overcoming what otherwise happened in New Orleans. And that is people with the same good intention in their hearts nonetheless plowing ahead, where the energy of the plow is their own tradition or their own way of doing things.
So if we could somehow find a way to become more literate in each other's traditions, that would be helpful. And since I've garnered the floor, I want to say that I also have common ground with you, Ingrid, because Christopher Hitchens once went after me in one of his blogs. And I thought at the time I was going to try to start a support group.
And then I thought, a support group? Support group is too wimpy because it makes it seem like we're downtrodden and need support. So a triumphalism group of people who proudly have been taken a shot at by Christopher Hitchens, a mark of great distinction. So maybe you could be the president and I could be the Sergeant at Arms of that group. Thank you.
KEN CLARKE: Thank you so much. Yes, Jan.
JAN WILLIS: I want to say just briefly that I remember that Martin Luther King said we have to have a tough mind as well as a tender heart. We have to understand better. We have to gain wisdom. We have to be able to deeply listen.
King was one of the first people that I heard talk about what we now, some of us in Buddhism, tout as interconnectedness. Oh, we've got this positive way to talk about what seems to be a negative, even nihilistic concept in Buddhism, this [NON-ENGLISH], this [NON-ENGLISH]. You know, things are void. Void of what? Void of independent self-existence, da da da da. King says, you know, we're just connected. We're just connect it. It's as simple as that. I cannot be healthy if you're not well. I cannot.
It's because we are connected that if you fall, I fall, too, that I've got to understand that. So it's understanding. It's not some sentimental emotionality. It's not taking pity on another person. It's knowing that we all rise or fall together.
DAVID SKORTON: Can you show me your beautiful picture?
JAN WILLIS: Yes. People say to me, how can you be Baptist or Buddhist? And I have this picture in my mind here. This is a picture taken in 1967 of a press conference between Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh. And this press conference occurred just before Dr. Martin Luther King went to Riverside Church to give that sermon on Beyond Vietnam.
And King came under a lot of criticism, one, for the 1963 Birmingham march, for putting children in the forefront. People within-- [AUDIO OUT] too much. You shouldn't do this. This is going to give us bad press. This is not-- and King knew that-- in compassion, he knew that it was time to do this. And we, as children, knew that we'd been targets for so long, we were all excited to do. It did work. That was quite a year.
The second time he came under really great criticism from within the immediate surrounding support cast was when he decided to talk about the war in Vietnam, and to say that the US ought to pull out of that. People said, you shouldn't be doing this. That's a dilution that dilutes the civil rights movement. And King said he could hardly understand these people who don't know, he said, why I would be concerned about my brother, Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Vietnamese in their struggle. If they don't understand why I would care about that, then they don't know what I've been talking about all these years.
So I take great delight in this photograph, the Baptist and the Buddhist. And each one of these people nominated the other for the Nobel Peace Prize. They knew each other. They understood each other. There's something about understanding our common humanity.
KEN CLARKE: I think that moves us very nicely into a second topic, religious pluralism. Let me start off before I ask the question of the panel, with a definition of pluralism provided for us by Harvard professor Diana Eck. Pluralism is a reality in which the right to be different and stand against the majority is not only guaranteed, but cherished. For the pluralist, diversity is not divisive, but is the very stuff out of which the strong fabric of American culture is created.
I think we talked about this notion of understanding. And the question is, for us, how do universities reach out to both religious and non-religious community members and include them in conversations, coalitions, and activities in a culture devoid of religious literacy? As it was put by one anonymous philosopher who put it in extreme terms, we hate each other because we do not know each other. We do know each other because we do not talk to one another. So how do we foster pluralism amidst an epidemic, if you will, of religious illiteracy?
KENT FUCHS: I think it ties back into your previous question about justice and charity. A true religion, or a truly religious person, will not just do good, but also be good, and therefore will value pluralism, will value diversity, will have a sense of humility when you approach people of different faiths or different ethnicities or different nationalities, and learn from those individuals, and not only reach out to do good to the neighbors, but actually love your neighbor and not just engage your neighbor in acts of charity.
But also, we ourselves can be actually changed personally. And I think it's that personal transformation that's quite different from other academic studies, and that's what religion offers. It's, again, this idea of not just doing good, but actually being good.
INGRID MADSEN: Sometimes when we know someone, we actually don't like them very much. I mean, think of all the relatives you have who you know, and you've spent a lot of time with them. But you don't particularly like them. They're annoying. They're irritating. You don't like the choices they've made, lots of things. But you don't separate yourself from them. Why is that?
You have a relationship. Maybe it's the attachment hormone. Maybe it's the ethical sense of having a responsibility to people who you've had a relationship with. So I think, at the first root of it, is a true understanding that we cannot separate ourselves from us, no matter what we want to do. From an Islamic, perspective, we're human before anything else. We are the children of Adam, [NON-ENGLISH] Adam. And the holy Quran says God dignified the children of Adam and exalted them above some of the creation, not all of it, but the exaltation is also a sense of responsibility. We have a lot more power than most of creation, not all. We can get struck by lightning and hurricanes and other things that will mow us down.
So I think we have to be realistic because people would be very disappointed if they think the expectation is that we get together and we all necessarily like each other. Usually we can find something we like about each other, or at least something to connect. Now I may really think your religious tradition is very interesting, intriguing, I can see a lot of good in it. I still don't like you very much. Or I might like you a lot, but I don't think at least the way you present your ideas are very convincing to me.
So I think with the dialogue, we have to be realistic. But I think that spending time together is the key because when you spend time with someone, you start to just feel a responsibility for the relationship itself. And I think that can start-- like on a campus, I think that's really important. Whatever you do when you're spending that time together, being in the room together, at some level, is a very important first step.
So first, [NON-ENGLISH]. We are all human beings. I mean, that's such an important conviction for me, and it's such an important part of what I call humanism. And this issue of pluralism, of how we must accept that we will never agree on what you call first principles, or theological notions, or what my student John, who's just graduating from Harvard Divinity School-- I've trained him to be a humanist chaplain. He's going to be the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard next year-- he calls himself an atheologian. So we're never going to agree on atheology or theology or anything of the sort. And yet we have to find some common humanity.
And it can't be simplistic common humanity, either, what Allen Ginsberg called [INAUDIBLE], the religion of [INAUDIBLE]. And so I had a discussion, a public discussion at the Harvard Institute of Politics last week with a group of students studying politics. And it was myself and another chaplain. And we talked about pluralism as a theological position.
And I said, actually, I increasingly don't see pluralism as a theological position. I see it as a sociological position. I mean, it's simply the position that regardless of what you and I think about what is going to happen to one another after we die, we must know one another here in this world.
And I said to this other chaplain, I said, look, I know you have your opinions about what's happening to me after this world. But if you were to invite me to New Orleans to serve with you alongside you and to see your work, and maybe let that be your tool to convince me, that's a very different strategy than doing something much more violent, much more hateful.
And that's pluralism and action. I just want to say as well, so a lot of my students recently have been really upset. There was an episode of their favorite TV show, South Park, cartoon cutouts, the obnoxious little cartoon cutouts, and they're obnoxious to everyone, including Richard Dawkins, an atheist. And there was an episode where the prophet Muhammad was depicted in a bear suit, or there was a bear suit, and it sort of said, well, this is Mohammed.
And that episode was not allowed to air, and my students were very frustrated. They saw this as an affront on free speech, and it was a dangerous slippery slope, and that sort of thing. And I actually sympathized with their concern. But then-- but then-- some students in similar groups to mine, atheist students and secular students and what have you from around the country, decided that they ought to then take that a step further and say, well, now we're going to do a Chalk Mohammed day on campus, where we will draw stick figures. And that's the prophet Mohammed, or just use the word Mohammed, point to the stick figure.
And I was glad to get a chance to talk to you, Ingrid, about this today. So we just met. I really hope they don't do it. It's the wrong choice. It's a possible choice, it's a free choice, but it's not a good choice. And maybe we can begin a discussion today that can find better alternatives.
ALAN FLAM: I like Diana Eck's definition. You know, I think the notion of guaranteed is sort of the legalistic part of pluralism. But having different views cherished, I think, is really the wonderfully challenging part. But I'd like to take it a little bit farther than that, even. And I think about it a lot in my own work with my colleagues on campus for a long time. And it seems to me that the difference between diversity and pluralism is my willingness, or one's willingness, to be changed by an encounter with another person, that that's trying to sort of live deeply this idea of what it means to be part of a pluralistic community in a pluralistic world.
And it seems to me that that's both extraordinarily challenging-- I feel that challenge all the time-- but it also, I think, hits at the heart of our work on a college campus, that I always used to think-- would say that, really, the work of chaplains, it's about two things. It's about hospitality and it's about conversation. And actually, I believe that sums up the work I try to do a lot.
But I think there's more than that. I've come to think about it as even more than that, that first of all, I really love working with college students. I think the age between 18 and 25, this time in a person's life is an extraordinary one. And I still get excited pretty much every day when I walk on to campus, whether it's Brown or go visit another place. There's a current, there's a charge on a university campus that's absolutely unique. It's what makes, I think, our religious communities special as well.
But there's also something, I think-- you know, students at this age, it's very black and white. Often they think of the world in very black and white ways. And more and more I've come to see my role is to really challenge those students to think more critically, to open up more deeply to this challenge of being changed both by the academic subjects that they're encountering, the relationships that they're having, the discoveries about the world and themselves, to really open themselves up to be changed by all of that. And that is also part of the pluralistic stew.
And finally, I guess what I also think we're trying to do as chaplains at a university, and this pluralism work is central to it is students are so idealistic. And I love that idealism. And I think our work, as well, as educators, as chaplains, is how do we put muscle to that idealism? How do we really encourage students to think harder about it, to recognize that things aren't just what they might think that they are, but there's a lot more there. There's a lot more about the other person, the other group, the stick figure. You know, it's a terrific thing. And I can imagine having conversations with students about their choices to do you do that or not.
DAVID SKORTON: Before I make a point that I was thinking about before you spoke, Rabbi, I just want to say that if you like the combination of hospitality and conversation, I got to bring you over to fund raising. You'd be a great fund raiser if you like hospitality conversation. But that's a matter for another other discussion.
I love the idea-- I can't remember which of our colleagues brought it up tonight-- about spending time together so that we eventually take responsibility for a new relationship. And whoever said that-- I'm sorry I forgot which one of my colleagues said it-- I was thinking-- Susan pointed over there, but that's everybody. You just pointed at everybody.
But wasn't there something that Susan or Kent Hubble or David Harris, one of the folks at Cornell, started maybe a year, year and a half ago called Breaking Bread? OK. Breaking Bread. And the idea was not necessarily that you have to have a really linear purpose to go do something, put nails in a wall, whatever it is. Just have a meal together, get to know each other, and to paraphrase, and begin to take responsibility for the relationship.
And that was based on some social science evidence that that might actually be something that's effective to do. So maybe sometimes we should be less purpose-driven in terms of the outcome of the interaction, as opposed to just the interaction in and of itself. And when Ken talked about the joy that he felt-- and I felt the same wonder, walking into CURW and seeing the chalked up bored with all of those things-- the first time I ever went in there, maybe four years ago, four and 1/2 years ago, I thought, first, the concept was so amazing, but then the idea that it was a chalkboard and you'd be erasing it because there was so much demand to just do some stuff there, albeit that was group by group.
So here's a room where people in this particular designated grouping are going to go spend some time. So maybe a next step that I know that you've thought about a lot, Ken, would be to find a way to encourage people-- not beat them over the head, but encourage them-- to spend time together toward taking responsibility for a new relationship. And maybe that's a little bit of what Breaking Bread was meant to do. So that sounds like wisdom to me.
KEN CLARKE: No, I think that's exactly right. And in fact, as CURW begins to look at its overall programmatic focus for the upcoming year, one of the things we are beginning to look at is how we can foster more conversations that can lend itself in movement toward that type of pluralism that we're talking about. And so that is exactly right on cue.
As we start to bridge the gap between religious pluralism and secular humanism, the question then becomes what should be the role of the world's billions of persons, non-religious persons, in the present and future of multifaith work? I just came back from Ivy Chaplains' conference at Dartmouth, myself and Reverend Janet Shortall, Associate Chaplain, where we talked about the evolution of the chaplaincy as we know it today and the future of the chaplaincy.
And this question, I think, is very pertinent in relation to what the future looks like. Who are other dialogue partners and colleagues who can be part of what would be called, in the 21st century, religious work? And Greg, you might be most ideal to start us off, and others can jump in.
GREG EPSTEIN: Sure. I'd almost forgotten that I'd gotten a chance to pose my own questions to the panel. So thank you for bringing one of them up. So I hope that we really can begin to have a conversation on campus where humanists are included in part of this work, and therefore responsible for their part of this work. I mean, it goes both ways, and we recognize that.
But for a long time, it wasn't acceptable for humanists to have the kind of organizations that would allow them to be participants in this sort of work. And now that we're taking that responsibility on, now that we're in a little bit more of an open environment, we need your encouragement. We need your encouragement in many forms.
I mean, would it be all right, in 10, 15, 20 years, for the head chaplain of a university, the kind of chaplain that was responsible for all of the university's religious life, to be a humanist openly? Would it be possible for us to create programs such that we can really have humanist chaplains on many campuses and an open humanist presence?
There are secular student organizations on many, many, many campuses around the country that I would like to see reaching out to their campus chaplaincies more. And I would like to see them be reached out to. I'm doing a lot of what President Skorton just called hospitality and conversation around this idea. You know, we're talking to the Templeton Foundation, talking to humanist organizations, talking to religious organizations, talking to academic-- or whoever will talk to us about developing this concept, which is really thriving at Harvard, where at Harvard you can't have a conversation about religion without engaging humanists. But that's too rare still.
And so I'm actually really looking forward to hearing from anyone and everyone here about what we can do, what we can do to have this be a more engaged, even-handed conversation.
DAVID SKORTON: I can't remember exactly where Ken and Kent got the idea to invite you, but I was very strongly in favor of it not because I knew anything about the movement from a formalistic point of view, but once again, this business of just getting to know someone. Some years ago-- you get to a certain age, you can't remember. But 20 years ago, something like that, I got to be friends with someone-- I'm a vegetarian-- someone who was a vegetarian nutritionist and happened to be from a family that had a family secular humanist tradition and shared with me one issue of a magazine, The Humanist.
And I started reading it. I got a subscription for a while. I never heard of it ever. And it wasn't at a conference like this. It wasn't at anything where I could never have predicted I would end up having a subscription to that magazine because I was talking to someone about how to get enough protein when you don't eat cheeseburgers anymore kind of thing.
And so I learned two lessons from that. One, the big lesson, was I began to understand a lot-- you know, when you first encounter some new area, you don't know anything. The exponential increase in knowledge is just breathtaking because you know nothing. And the first two three issues were like a revelation to me. Maybe that's a funny word to use for-- but anyhow.
But it was fabulous, and I told a lot of other people about it. And I honestly can't remember, Ken, but I think when you brought it up, we talked about the fact, how critical it was would be to have that perspective. So one thing is keep getting people together so that we take responsibility for the relationship. What a great concept, that's one.
And secondly, I think that it's our responsibility as university leaders, maybe-- I don't know if more or less are the wrong words to use. But we're the ones who can invite people to do certain things, whatever. And there's no reason not to do that, and many, many reasons to do it. And so I think that's very important.
The tougher question for me is in a time of austerity, and we're always bellyaching about resources in higher education. Now we really, honestly have austerity as opposed to just thinking we have austerity. Now that we have austerity, programmatic additions and so on, it's very easy for us. It's almost a knee jerk reflex to say, oh, please, not now. That's the last thing we need to do.
But there's many things that we can do short of that. And something like what Ken and Kent organized tonight, I think, is a really terrific model, including but not limited to listening to you, listening to Ingrid, and so on, traditions that maybe many of us had not been as familiar.
So I'm going to take, for my tiny piece of this, the next meeting I go to of university presidents. You can just imagine what those meetings are like, that you have to have specially constructed rooms to hold the egos without a seismic effect. I'm going to tell about this, and some of the presidents of your institutions will be there, and just say what a good idea this is. And it was relatively inexpensive and very potentially far reaching. It attracted interest from people who cared about the institution. And maybe we can try to replicate this 50 times in the country. That would be one small way.
ALAN FLAM: [INAUDIBLE] Brown, so there's certainly room. I mean, the humanist conversation. And you know, especially president talked about the Cornell strategic plan that really talks about helping students develop moral voice and moral reasoning and moral understanding. I mean, that's the broad question, I think, in which we all work.
But perhaps I'd love to hear from colleagues as well. The part for me, the conversation that's much more complicated, it's not really how do we include humanists and work together. I think we're seen as our colleagues. But I would say there are many more fundamental religious traditions on our college campus, Christian fundamentalists, that are not interested in being part of, or don't seem to be interested in being part of the conversation with us together.
Or others. You know, the non-monotheistic traditions. I think for many of us who've lived and grown up in monotheistic traditions, how do we embrace other religious traditions that are certainly emerging, I think, very prominently on our college campus. Hinduism and other traditions, as well, I think, as traditions like Wicca, and things that people see as very much on the fringe.
Humanism is not on the fringe, certainly on the college campuses that I know. But some of these other traditions are. And they, I think, have insulated themselves from the mainstream of the conversation. And I'm curious about how we open ourselves up larger for those conversations.
JAN WILLIS: And not just that we be inclusive, but as I was just alluding to earlier, I come from Wesleyan, where the students are wonderful. The students are great. They're so sharp. Everybody's so, so, so heady. They're so into theory that in the religion department, our majors-- I've taught there 33 years-- most of our majors, when they come to me, they're shocked and surprised because I give them practicums. I send them out. I say, do a comparative essay. Go to this place and go to that place. Oh, and they're so timid then, a little nervous and scared.
And they come back and they say, Professor Willis, there's something real happening out there. There's something real happening, because you know, because the students have the idea, many of them-- at a place like Wesleyan, certainly, they have the idea that to graduate as a religion major means you graduate as a JZ Smith person. You got that. You got that there. You're either McCutcheon or you're JZ Smith.
But to think, to find out, perhaps in their fourth year of this major, that people out there at church or at the mosque are doing something that's important to them. That's a revelation to them. Not that they're secularist, not that they're a humanist. I mean, that's what happens at the college now. That's what everybody studies. That's the hip, hot thing.
But that there's a religion old time-- sorry-- that there's something real that engages the human spirit, that's what's new to them. And that's what many of them now-- it's like a big circle come back around. They're interested in that because they think there's something missing, and they see people engaged.
And I don't mean to preach. But they discover something. So Greg, they know much about humanism, and they speak secularism discourse very well. But they also think there's something out there that they haven't been getting.
GREG EPSTEIN: I do want to say when the first humanist chaplain at Harvard-- the humanist chaplaincy at Harvard was founded 35 years ago by a Catholic priest who got an assignment to go be a Catholic chaplain at Dartmouth, and his students talked him out of believing in God. And so he-- long story short, he wound up at Harvard, and he knocked on the door and he said-- at that point, 35 years ago, Harvard only had Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish chaplains. And he knocked on the door and he said, I'd like to do something a little different. And they said, well, what should we do about this guy-- well, he'll be gone in a couple of years, so fine.
Well, one of the first things that he did, and one of the things that he really dedicated his career doing, was saying we need to open this chaplaincy up to everyone because-- and by the way, he had a selfish motive, in part. So from his view, one religion was no wiser or truer than the other. So why should we privilege Protestantism or Catholicism? Hinduism is equally, from his point of view, from my point of view, human mythology, human creation. But nonetheless, there's a sociological benefit to this, too.
So he went out and really worked to recruit a Hindu chaplain, a Muslim chaplain, a Buddhist chaplain. He actually went out and recruited the first evangelical chaplains to Harvard because Harvard had been very much opposed. When I met Pat MacLeod, the outgoing president of Harvard chaplains and the head of the Campus Crusade for Christ at Harvard, he said, your predecessor was the first person at Harvard to really welcome me, to really make me feel at home here.
And that's the kind of approach that I think we need to take. And I do also want to say that therefore, it's not enough just to say, well, we're familiar with Kant. The dean of Harvard Divinity School said to me, Greg, I don't understand why we would need a program to train humanist chaplains, why we would need courses on humanism. You can just go take courses in the philosophy department.
Well, with all due respect, it's not enough to simply read Edward Saeed's book on theory of secularism or to take a course on Kant. There are lived humanist communities. There are organizations like the American Humanist Association, like the Secular Student Alliance. We want to be doing actual work in the community, volunteering, getting involved, making the world a better place. We need your encouragement to do more of that, and part of your encouragement will be come visit us, just the same way I love going and visiting.
I visited Saddleback Church in California. spent time davening like an Orthodox Jew in Israel to sort of get the experience, see what the religion that I was leaving behind was. Studying-- we let's go visit each other, and so really come visit us on an organizational level.
KEN CLARKE: Last few minutes we have before we open up the floor for dialogue between the panelists and the audience, I want to raise one question in relation to science. How do we, as public intellectuals, talk about the ethical dimensions of scientific inquiry and discovery? There's been much debate over the last several decades, for instance, about stem cell research. And how do we do that working in context, for example, in which of research universities that privilege scientific inquiry?
So how do we as public intellectuals talk about the ethical dimensions of scientific inquiry from our respective traditions? Let's do that for just a few minutes, and then we want to open up the floor.
DAVID SKORTON: I'm not smart enough to know the answer to that, but I'll relate an experience I had just as something that I found to be moving and interesting. I had the opportunity to go to Iran about-- I can never remember the number of months. I think it was October of '08, so whatever that is. 18 months ago, something like that.
And a group of American university presidents were invited by counterparts in Iran, and not by the government, and it wasn't a government to government. It was a people to people exchange. And we jumped at the chance to go. Five colleagues and I went. And before 1979, before the Islamic Revolution, the most numerous international students on US college campuses were Iranian students. And of course, it's much, much different now.
And so I had friends from medical school and residency days from Iran-- and this was in the mid- to late '70s-- and began to buy in, over the decades, to this idea that this was a place you just had to stay away from and never was accessible anymore. So it was a great chance to go.
And we went there. And I promise I'll get done before 10:00. It's just sort of a long story. But we went there, and we were in Tehran, and we went to various different institutions and met counterparts and graduate students and postdocs and so on. And everybody else went to Isfahan on a bus. And I had a little bit of that traveler's problem. And so I skipped the bus.
And the next morning, they said, are you feeling good enough to do something else? And I said, yeah, like go to an academic health center because I'm a doc. I'd just like to see what it's like. And so very graciously, and literally one hour's notice, the dean of a place called Tehran University of the Medical Sciences, very impressive place, agreed to sort of eat up his morning by having me come. And I went there and went through all of the interesting slideshow about the place and so on.
And then somebody said something about stem cell research. And I was thunderstruck. And I thought, do you do stem cell research? And he looked at me, and he said, why are you asking me that in such a surprised way? And I said, well, I'm from a country where there is some considerable friction between Christian-- I didn't even say Judeo-Christian-- Christian perspective on some aspects of fetal life and whether it's acceptable or not to gather cells from embryos, and told him the whole story.
And I said, even though I try to learn a certain amount about Islam in general, I never thought about what the Islamic perspective might be on stem cell research. And so this gentleman says, well, I just so happen-- I published a paper with a colleague of mine in English language literature three years ago about one person's interpretation of what the holy Quran says about fetal life.
And he had his assistant search around this file cabinet. Sure enough, brought me a copy of this paper in a British journal, transplantation journal, medical journal. And the story was-- and I can't vouch that this is correct interpretation of the holy Quran, just that this was what the paper said-- that during fetal life, approximately in the fourth month of development, so the argument went, there was evidence and interpretation of the holy Quran that in the fourth month of fetal life, the fetus obtained a soul.
And it was never acceptable to waste life, ever, but if there was a reason to do it for the greater good, it would have to be in that early period before the fetus had a soul. And it was an argument and an explanation. And I said, so do you actually do it? And they had a whole institute doing what I-- I'm fairly familiar with this kind of work-- was obviously very high quality and far reaching work.
So when it's possible to do this, we have a promise to each other, he and I, to try to organize this kind of a discussion about the intersection, the narrow little piece of this, Ken, that you just brought up, the intersection of science and religion in the 21st century, trying to look through the lens of more than one or two religious traditions, even though all three would be Abrahamic monotheistic traditions, still to try to look at the same narrow question from different points of view. So to be continued, I hope, at some point. And I can report back to you, Ken, on what that discussion was.
KEN CLARKE: Look forward to hearing about that. And the concept of ensoulment has also been a significant part of the conversation, for instance, in the abortion debate. When does ensoulment occur, for example? Other Responses
KENT FUCHS: : I think that this sometimes artificial conflict between scientific inquiry and religion is one in which both sides, and actually all of us, including those of us in the room, need to bring a lot of humility to it. We believe, no matter what our perspective is, whether we're scientists-- and both David and I come from that background in our academic training-- or whether it's a religious perspective, or, in our cases, a combination of those two, I think a lot of humility is needed because both an understanding, in this case, of when life begins, is not something that we have yet well-defined either from a scientific perspective or a religious perspective from almost any of our traditions.
And it is one, I think, whether we approach it with more inquiry to be done or more prayer to be conducted, it's one where humility is, I think, the fundamental principle.
DAVID SKORTON: Very quickly follow up on Ken's point. The current recently confirmed director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, who ran the Human Genome Project for the United States at the National Institutes of Health, is a very, very religious person who has written quite openly about his humility and his thought-- you've probably read some of his stuff or know about it-- where this is one of the ultimate successful scientists, unravel the whole business of the human genome.
And he-- I think humility is the right word-- he does not see a conflict between the scientific, objective quote, unquote approach to things in his inner religious life. And I'm on one of the counsels of one of the institutes at the NIH, and we have a meeting coming up. He's coming to meet the council people for all the institutes. And they said, what do you want to talk about? And people talk about cost sharing and indirect cost rates. And I said, can we get him to talk about this religious thing? And they said no.
He didn't say no. He didn't say no. The organizers said no. I'll get to them.
KEN CLARKE: Let's now go to-- for the sake of time. I know it's been a long evening already-- questions and answers from the audience for our panelists. And there's a microphone here at the center. We ask that you would come to us so that you might be heard. One question per person, please. Yes.
AUDIENCE: My question is for Rabbi Flan. I taught secondary school for 27 years. Unfortunately, I'm not Cornell. I'm Harvard. All my kids went to Brown, so that was a problem. But I was a little concerned-- I mean, everybody around here is incredibly erudite, but I was a little concerned about your statement, don't get distracted by good works. And I guess I don't know how else to live, quotes, the good life. I'm 80 years old. I taught school for 27 years. I do volunteer work now three days a week.
And I guess I spent my life teaching my students that you get up in the morning and you do the best you can for the world. And you go to bed at night hopefully in some sense of peace, and you can look at yourself in the mirror. I have a relative who gets incredibly involved in global causes but neglects her parents and her brother and so forth and so on.
So my philosophy, and I hope I wasn't totally wrong, was to do the best I could. And it really had to do with quotes, the good works, whatever that may be. So could you respond? I'm sorry.
ALAN FLAM: Thank you. Perhaps I wasn't as clear as I hoped or wanted to be. Good works are essential. I think what I wanted to communicate was that sometimes I think we allow good works to-- they keep us from fully understanding, and perhaps thinking about the larger structural problems that exist.
So when we think that contributing canned goods-- there's a Jewish expression called tikkun olam, which means repairing the world. And I'm amazed sometimes, by the way, how broadly, which it's a fairly complicated Kabbalistic theory of repairing the world. But it's come to be the slogan for everything that we do.
The fact is that contributing canned goods to a food drive is a good thing to do. It's not repairing the world. And we should not fall into the trap of thinking that it is. That's what I was trying to communicate. It's a good thing to do. We should keep doing it. But we also have to understand-- I think we need to understand more about why there is hunger in our street, in our neighborhood, in our community, in our world. What are the politics around food and distribution of food?
And what are the ethics involved in some people having so much and some people having so little? And if we only think about the canned food drive or the Relay for Life and say, well, now I've done my part or repairing the world, to me, I think we're kidding ourselves by that. So that's what I was trying to say. I'm not sure I'm going to satisfy you with my response, but I'm pretty dogged on that.
INGRID MADSEN: Could I just add my perspective on it, because I think-- I'm sure you didn't mean it, but I think you almost presented it as an either or. And the way I look at it, it's the beginning. It's one thing, it's one part of a whole. Doing it, embodying a practice, can make the long-term commitment to changing policy, which involves a lot of boring meetings and policy discussions, learning-- it can make it palatable.
But that kind of embodied practice that's visceral, where you have that connection, that human connection, it can give you that kind of energy, then, to go on for the long term. So one's maybe a short-term or immediate need, and one's more long term. It might be the beginning of awareness or consciousness that you hope doesn't stop there, but it continues there.
And I always think of this. There's a beautiful thing, when the prophet Muhammad used to take the oath of allegiance from people who wanted to take him as their teacher, they'd say, I promise to obey you. And he would say, as far as you are able. And so they'd say, as far as I'm able. So sometimes I find with my students in ethics that sometimes they feel overwhelmed. It's like, oh, my god, there's so many problems. How can I do all of it?
You certainly have to do as much as you're able. But you're probably-- and that's why as an individual, no, you're not going to be able to do it. You're not going to be able to attack all those problems. But as a community with others, then you've got a much better chance, at least.
GREG EPSTEIN: This is why I like the Talmudic statement, which, again, doesn't make reference to a deity. It's not upon you to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it. We need both the on the ground projects and the sociological awareness. So when we went down to New Orleans, we weren't thinking we were going to solve poverty. We were going to try to do something, and also be aware, get more awareness of what it means to be poor. You need both you can't get all that from a textbook, but neither is just going without the broader awareness enough. You need both.
DAVID SKORTON: After 60 years in the Jewish tradition of reading interpretations of rabbinic literature, it's such a pleasure to be able to pile on and continue to interpret the rabbi's comments because I think the idea that Ingrid said, that they're not mutually exclusive, I think that's what he was saying. Or to put it a different way, that it's necessary but not sufficient to do good. So that's the interpretation of the rabbinic scholar for the night.
ALAN FLAM: [INAUDIBLE] comment about practice. I mean, I think that it is about cultivating a practice. There is a beautiful story in the very beginning of Rachel Naomi Remen's book My Grandfather's Blessing where she really illustrates this notion. She was a young girl, and her grandfather was a Hasidic Jew. Her family was very secular. He brought her a little plant and a little cup of dirt.
And anyway, she kept watering it, and ultimately, although she was ready to give it back to him multiple times, he said, just keep putting water on it, [NON-ENGLISH], which was his endearing name for her. And finally, after about two and 1/2 weeks, a little sprout came up out of the ground, out of the dirt. And she was so excited that when he came to visit her the next day, she said, grandfather, look what's happening. And he just sort of, yes, this is the world. Amazing things happened before our very eyes seemingly unexpectedly.
And she says, yes, grandfather. Is it because of the water that I put in the plant every day? And he looked at it and he said, no, [NON-ENGLISH], it was because of your faithfulness. And then she goes on to say that was her first lesson in service and I think that is. It's about cultivating a practice.
So good deeds, we should do good things, absolutely. That's important to our world and our communities. And we also have to keep thinking more and more about how can we create a world where we don't need to do so many good deeds all the time because it's filled with greater equity and justice for everyone.
KEN CLARKE: I think I saw a couple of hands over here. I'm sorry. Oh, OK.
AUDIENCE: Yes, if I may. I'd like to pose this question first to President Skorton and Provost Fox, and then pass it on. Last week or two weeks ago, I went to a speech by Commissioner of Education Steiner. And one of the things that he said is that he felt that what students not at the college level need to get out of their education, but in public schools, and then on into college is how to live a good life and a lot of the things that you've talked about here.
However, what public education deals with, and what higher education deals with to a greater extent, is the acquisition of knowledge, the acquisition of facts and ways to do things. But what you had said is at the end, the principles at the end of the strategic report, is things that go way beyond the acquisition of knowledge.
I just would like to hear for a moment from the two of you, and then from anyone else, how you feel the university can meld that acquisition of knowledge that professors do in the classroom and students are required to do in their studies with the concepts and the thoughts and the ideas that we've been talking about tonight?
KENT FUCHS: : I'll take a shot at it. I think it is a wonderful objective to have. And what we're talking about, and this actually ties into the previous question, where we were talking about doing good. And the context here is we have students that are doing good, and our objective is to educate them so that we change their minds in the way they think, but then go beyond that to change their behavior throughout their lives, and if we're successful, maybe change their hearts, just who they are fundamentally as individuals.
I think as universities, we understand the education part, the first part, particularly the best universities. Students come to Cornell and leave fundamentally changed in the way they think. They leave as not just educated students, but critical thinkers who are problem solvers in whatever discipline they're in. But the quest, then, is to also touch their behavior throughout their lives, and as I said, touch who they are fundamentally. So how do they do that is the question. So we agree on the goal, and the question is how do we do that?
Many, many ways. There's no one way. In the science area, you would think about not just the learning the concepts, but practicing them in the laboratory. And in engineering, that would be not just analyzing something, but actually creating something, inventing it, designing it, and then deploying it.
In the academic arena we are making progress in this area, specifically at Cornell, through bringing the academic learning into their living environment. We call it West Campus. So people here in this audience, Kent Hubble and Susan Murphy and others, are engaged in bringing together the student experience with the intellectual learning environment.
I also think-- and this is actually tied back into the area of religion-- and that is as individuals, whether we're faculty or staff or others, we can actually be models of this. We can live lives-- and students can see it in us as faculty or staff or academic leaders-- the way we act, the way we conduct our lives. And that's then tied back into, I think, CURW. So emulation, modeling.
And I think we don't do that enough. I think we don't share our successes, our failures. We've talked a lot about that on campus recently because of the student deaths. Probably the students don't know that I got my seminary degree, but I really failed. If I was successful, I wouldn't be here. I'd be a minister at a church right now. And I think my boss here would be a musician somewhere if he wasn't president.
So it's that part. We don't share our lives enough with our students. And that's one way, as well, to change them throughout the rest of their careers and their personal lives.
DAVID SKORTON: I really have nothing new to add, but just to underscore two things that Ken said. One is to hopefully have role models, at the risk of embarrassing him, to have a humble person who understands that there is a breadth beyond a slide ruler. That shows you my age.
KENT FUCHS: Abacus.
DAVID SKORTON: Abacus. Yeah, thank you. It really hurts. Really hurts-- is very, very important. And just to emphasize for those who may not be aware, when Ken referred to the living arrangements on the West Campus, there is a faculty member who is called the House Dean and her or his family. And the kids are all living with them together. And so all of the unwritten, unscripted, unassigned lessons that can be learned by seeing how that family lives and invites the students into their lives every day, I mean literally every day, is huge. It's huge.
And having a role model like Kent is very, very important, too. So it's a great question. I think we have maybe two more questions before we allow you further conversation beyond here. So I think you've been waiting very patiently. There's one more question in the back
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I'm also a Cornell alumna, and I'm thrilled to be here. But I must admit that while I was at school, I can't really say that I had religious curiosity. I was raised a Baptist. I would call myself more of probably a Baptist by habit. It's what my parents did, it's what I did.
And I'm curious now, not only on Cornell's campus, but also on the other universities at which you work, is that happening? Are students talking to each other across the faiths? We didn't do that. I mean, there were y-- we probably had two groups. There were the religious-- we probably called them fanatics-- and then there was everyone else.
And we didn't necessarily talk to each other. We debated politics, we debated social issues, we debated everything, but not religion. We just simply didn't talk about it. I daresay most of my friends who went to school with me probably had no idea what I believed. But I'm curious as to is that changing? Are students in a more curious about faith? Are they talking to their you know Muslim brothers and sisters or their Jewish brothers and sisters? And I'm just curious is that happening?
AUDIENCE: Excuse me, what year were you at Cornell?
AUDIENCE: I graduated in '85.
DAVID SKORTON: Well, you'd have to ask the students to get the real answer on that question. My limited observation of four years at Cornell and a longer observation elsewhere is that there is no general answer to that, that some students are and many students aren't, just like their role models are plowing ahead day by day doing whatever it is, all the very important things that all of us do.
And I think, once again, in just four years of observation-- and maybe it's because I'm partial to the CURW model, and I admit I am, so that biases my observations-- I see more apparent structural interchange at Cornell than I did elsewhere. Even though Cornell is a place of enormous laissez faire choice with, I don't know, 800 or something student organizations. And if you don't like it, then start a new one. It's 801. That's a sort of Cornell tradition. So it isn't like people are being hit over the head to do it.
But I think there's-- I don't know how far it reaches-- but more of that kind of thing than I saw at a couple of other, three other places that I had spent time. I'm also told by colleagues of mine in both the Jewish and Islamic communities elsewhere in higher education, that a little tiny slice of the world, that what they know about the informal interactions as well as projects, if that's the right word, by the organizations Mecca and Hillel and so on, that there's more coming together at Cornell than in some other places. But I can't actually be a witness to that latter thing, just what people tell me.
The last thing I would say is that the students who are activists on our campus, leaders of these organizations, I don't think they're not getting together because Ken Clarke's telling them to do it or I'm telling them to do it. I think they're doing it because they want to do it. Is that fair?
KEN CLARKE: I think that's exactly right. There's much more student-generated activity that is happening around matters religious. I mean, we're seeing this across the board in a number of areas. On a campus that is overly programmed, for example, the programs that are most well attended in many instances are the programs that students themselves generate. They can be around religion.
There has been, for instance, Professor Ross Brand, for a number of years, has helped to facilitate a dialogue between Jewish and Muslim and Arab communities on the campus, and around some very tough issues, for example. That's been going on for a number of years. You have a lot happening at small group level.
ALAN FLAM: I think just atitudinally, there's some really interesting things happening on campus. So I think I heard something on, maybe, NPR yesterday or today. But in my generation in college, if my parents wanted me to do something, I didn't do it. It's like there's this sort of polar magnetic opposite reaction to lots of things.
d I think a person at Tufts was saying that today students are on their cell phones calling their parents a couple of times a day about what kind of a decision should I make about doing this or doing this or doing this? So there is a difference in attitudes, on one hand, I think by a generation of college students on campus, in many ways, much more traditional. I mean, I talk to students about weddings, and I'm just sort of blown away by the kinds of wedding plans and details that happen. So it feels like a different time.
But I would say at Brown, I do think there still is-- it can seem to students involved in religious communities like they are a distinct fringe minority on campus. I think when they actually look around, they understand that they're actually part of something that's much more common than they think.
And there are some extraordinary conversations that take place, and activities from the Center for Public Service, where these conversations take place on a breaks project trip or a multifaith dinner. We actually have a multifaith residence house at Brown where about 30 students live together. And I think these kinds of conversations percolate, and from there, they radiate as well out to other places on campus.
KEN CLARKE: One last question. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Good evening. I'm one of your alum as well, class of '79, and I daresay my first name is Cornell. And I had the wonderful experience to drop my first son off at the university in a similar place where my mother dropped me off. And she left me with these parting words. Don't come back home educated stupid.
And it took a while to begin to process and understand the profound implications of that. And I heard one of you briefly touch upon that. Having left Cornell with a wonderful education, gone on to law school, and became equipped to be a master of the universe, only to find out that the world is a very, very messy place, and unless that universe is redefined based upon the intellectual gifts that are provided, you become ill-equipped. And I found that out.
And I'm getting to the question. At some point in the practice of law, I found that all of the theories, the disciplines, were adequate but insufficient to really answer the penultimate questions. And I burned out, went to seminary, and found a new language, and found that religion allowed me to perfect the gifts of intellectualism that allows me now to labor within the public sphere within that messy world. And I see a lot of colleagues ill-equipped to get messy in a messy world.
And a interesting event that came up that really kind of led me to believe that there was a discernment of the young man who was killed in the London subway bombing. I was asked to eulogize him. His father's an atheist. His grandmother is a Buddhist.
And the service was at the Riverside Church, at one of the great cathedrals in the world. And I was asked not to talk about Jesus as a Presbyterian minister, and to begin to pull all of that together and speak out of a language, and speak confidently out of a language that didn't seek to proselytize but sought to perfect and interpret.
And I found that religion has allowed me to do that in a way that the other things could not. And I would just like to hear some of your reflections on how and what your religion does to allow you to engage in the messy part of the public sphere.
JAN WILLIS: It's said in more than a couple of scriptures, Buddhist scriptures, that a man by the name of [INAUDIBLE] came to the Buddha and asked, is there life after death? Does the arhat, a particular sage in the Theravada tradition of Buddhism, does an arhat's heart bleed if he stubs his toe, does all these kinds of things? And the Buddha refused to answer.
And when the man went away, the Buddha's closest disciple, a nun, said why did you refuse? And the Buddha said, if he'd answered one way, the man would have had a misconception. And if he'd said something else, he would have had a similar misconception. What the Buddha says is that whether or not there is life after death, and whether or not the world is eternal or not, there are the facts of birth and disease and old age and death. And by virtue of being alive, we all experience these facts as causing suffering.
And what benefit we can do for one another is help each other to find joy, contentment, in this messiness, with these kinds of things as facts, that any message that I have that's real is about how to live in the face of these things. So it's said that he taught 84,000 different paths, all paths of practice. But they're all about coming to some resolution, if not solution, of those basic problems, being able to live in the world, to show responsibility with one another, to show connection, all those things.
But life is messy, and we all share in that messiness. That's part of our connection, too. So doesn't matter what religious tradition, doesn't matter what we think about this, doesn't matter about our speculation. [AUDIO OUT].
GREG EPSTEIN: I retell that story of the Buddha's discovery of suffering in my book from a humanist perspective. And believe me, I didn't have to change much. No college's students are spared this grappling with mortality and suffering for very long. And so I'll tell a story from our college's perspective.
I had a student of mine with whom I work very closely, Kelly, who was running in a race on the Charles River with a few hundred Harvard students a couple of years ago, the River Run, a beautiful spring morning on a Sunday. They close off the roads by the river, and they all run.
And one of her friends who lived down the hall from her in the dorms, Kirkland House, collapsed during the race not far from where Kelly was standing, or where she was running. And Kelly was a member of my humanist student group. She describes itself as a third generation atheist. One of the students in this group-- they were all standing around shocked. None of them knew what to do. And one of the students in the group was from an evangelical background and very comfortable with spontaneous prayer, as is that tradition is, and starts to lead a prayer.
And Kelly said to me afterwards, Greg, I couldn't believe it, but I was I was grateful that somebody had words to say at that moment because a third generation atheist, you don't get a lot of training in how to lead a spontaneous service at that point. But she also came to me and she said, what kind of readings do humanists have for funerals?
And I was able to show her. There's a big humanist tradition of doing funerals and weddings and that sort of thing as well. And it was necessary, but not sufficient for her to be comforted in the words of somebody else's tradition. Ultimately she had to come back and hear a little bit of a word of comfort in her own tradition as well.
And the university is good at teaching knowledge, but it doesn't have a lot of answers for this stuff. And it does, it tends to come to chaplains at moments like this. And I think that's important. But therefore it's all the more important that we do have this diverse group of chaplains, and we're not privileging one perspective over another, including not privileging religious over a secular perspective. Thank you.
KEN CLARKE: I'd like to thank our panel and to thank you for being such a wonderful audience this evening. I just want to make some very brief acknowledgments. On the back of your programs there are a listing of all of the folks and offices who helped to make this event possible. I want to particularly cite Charles Phlegar, Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, who encouraged us to think much larger than we initially intended in terms of this celebration, and encouraged us to include the president and the provost.
And again, I cannot say enough about the importance and the significance of a president and provost willing to speak publicly about religion and public life. And so I want to thank you, Charlie, for helping us to think much larger than what we were originally anticipating.
I want to thank the CURW staff, Janet SHortall, Janelle Hanson, who in the midst of transitioning from being our receptionist to our administrative assistant, handled so many of the logistics and the details of this working with alumni affairs and development. A great big thank you to Alumni Affairs and Development and other offices who helped us to pull this event together.
But without the help of CURW staff, our core staff, and without the encouragement and the interest of our chaplains, this program would not have happened as it has. I want to thank Vice President Tommy Bruce, Vice President for Communications, who I think is still here, who's come, as well as his staff, for helping us to get word out through a variety of venues. Laura Hunsinger, the Director of External Relations for Student and Academic Services. Rene Alexander, Director of Minority Alumni Programs, who played a huge role in helping to make this happen.
I want to especially thank Javier Vasquez of the Cathedral NYC for providing such a magnificent venue, and surprising me this afternoon with that ice sculpture of the Cornell seal. That was-- yes, please clap. And that was not part of what we had discussed earlier, so I am very grateful for what you have done.
Susan Murphy and Kent Hubble, Susan, Vice President for Student and Academic Services, Kent Hubble, Dean of Students, who I've had the honor and the pleasure of working with for nine years from my arrival at Cornell. And I do not say that in any sycophantic terms. But I say that because of the support that they have provided to CURW throughout their years at Cornell, but also because of the way in which they are held in high esteem in the Cornell world and beyond.
I want to make one last acknowledgment. One of my predecessors is Director of Cornell United Religious Work is here tonight, who served in that capacity from 1958 to 1965, who brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to campus to speak at Sage Chapel in November 1960, under whose leadership the council or the Committee on US Latin American Relations CUSLAR, one of those Cornell acronyms, was established in 1965. The Reverend Paul [INAUDIBLE], will you please stand?
Thank you so much, Paul, for joining us and for being with us. It's an honor to have you with us this evening. Thank you again for helping us to celebrate 80 years of Cornell United Religious Work. Please feel free to engage our panelists in discussion. There are refreshments at the rear available for you as we end our program tonight. Thank you so much.
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Cornell United Religious Work sponsored a multifaith discussion, which explored social justice, religious pluralism, secular humanism and science on college campuses, in celebration of its 80th anniversary, May 11 at the Cathedral NYC.
Rev. Kenneth I. Clarke Sr., director of CURW, moderated six panelists including Cornell President David Skorton, Provost Kent Fuchs, and Jewish, Muslim, Tibetan/Buddhist/Christian and humanist chaplains from various universities.