Broadening "All-Denominational" Chautauqua

  • A focus on inclusion Religious leaders from many faiths came together at Chautauqua Institute to build neutral and inclusive discussions Image Credit: Chautauqua Institute

  • A focus on inclusion Scenic Lake Chautauqua provides a calming backdrop for the serious work and deep conversations at the Institute Image Credit: Chautauqua Institute

  • A focus on inclusion Religious leaders from many faiths came together at Chautauqua Institute to build neutral and inclusive discussions Image Credit: Christopher Nemeth

  • A focus on inclusion At least 18 religions maintain their own houses at Chautauqua Image Credit: Chris Breitenbach

Broadening "All-Denominational" Chautauqua

Teaching love and forgiveness to an interfaith audience--even one made up of religious experts warmed to the message--is a complicated task.

That’s why the Fetzer Institute supported an international interfaith conference through the Chautauqua Institute’s Department of Religion in May 2012 to help shape conversations on the power of love and forgiveness for the nine-week Chautauqua summer season.

“Words like love and compassion may have certain resonance and push buttons in certain faiths, but not in others,” said Dr. Vasudha Narayanan, distinguished professor and chair of the University of Florida Religious Studies Department.

And the critical role of religion in international relations only underscores the importance of keeping conversations as neutral and inclusive as possible.

“We’re exploring how Chautauqua can be seen as a place where all world religions are welcomed, which puts us in touch with what we need for a future of peace in our world,” said Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, director of the Department of Religion at Chautauqua. “Religion isn’t just about religion--it’s also about how we make peace in a diverse world.”

The institute was founded in 1874 by Methodists, but quickly grew to encompass an “all- denominational” approach that currently includes houses dedicated to 16 denominations. As global religious tensions have endured and escalated, it’s become clear that more work is needed to achieve Chautauqua’s goal.

“Each extension was greeted with both an embrace and a lot of tension,” said Campbell. “It is out of our recognition of the tension that accompanies a move in an interfaith direction that we recognize Fetzer’s goal--the absolute need for love and forgiveness.”

Chautauqua and Fetzer brought together leaders of world religions to discuss and design methods--for conversation with the 170,000 Chautauqua summer season participants--that enhance awareness of the transformative power of love and forgiveness to help neutralize religious prejudices.

“Religion can either be an obstacle or a forceful, effective, positive tool for goodness,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  “But that is up to us.”

This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on World Religions and Spiritualities.