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Who are we?

If I asked you who you are, what would you say?

Would you tell me your name, job title, location, religion, race, family status? Would that be enough for me to fully understand you—the essence of you that is different from your neighbor’s?

…or would you tell me your story? Would you tell me about your childhood, about the events that shaped you, the people who influenced you, your fears and hopes?

Everyone has a story. You do. Your country does. Your religious or spiritual tradition does. Even our scientific inquiries tell a story.

The problem is that currently, we define ourselves by our individual or community stories. At the Fetzer Institute, we believe these smaller stories are necessary and good but ultimately insufficient to position us to solve the world’s biggest problems.

We're missing a larger story—the story of who we are as one global human family, connected in love, even across our differences. This larger story encompasses things that are too expansive for just one life, one community, or one tradition; and it spans generations, time, and place. If we had the larger story, we could know ourselves better and it could inspire us to live in better harmony with each other.  

But what is that larger story, and how do we learn to tell it?

Fetzer is turning to leaders in the world’s major historic religious, spiritual, and scientific traditions to discern what we’re fondly calling a “shared sacred story”—one that honors our religious, spiritual, and scientific diversity while connecting us across these differences in love. These nine scholar-practitioner teams include Indigenous, Buddhist, Christian, Confucianist, Hindu, Interspiritual, Islamic, Jewish, and Sikh traditions. They will set out to retell their traditions’ historic stories in today’s time, integrating the contributions of modern science. By 2024, these teams will articulate a poetic interpretation of a shared sacred story for the entire human family.

And we’d like to invite you into the story.

 

Step into the Story

There are three ways to see your individual story connect with this larger story of what it means to be human.

Sign up for updates. You’ll have first access to the ancient retellings and discussion guides as soon as they are available.

Co-fund the project. Please contact Sarah Wade on our Ally Development team for more information on how to partner with us on this profound project.

Co-brand and co-distribute the story. We are looking for organizations and influencers who want to help spread the shared sacred story with the intentions of healing, inspiring, and ultimately creating conditions for love to flourish. Contact Sara Critchfield on our Global Outreach team if you’re interested.

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Meet the Scholar-Practitioner Teams

Buddhist Team

Ruben Habito headshot
Ruben Habito, Team Co-Lead
Professor of World Religions and Spirituality, Southern Methodist University

Ruben Habito is professor of World Religions and Spirituality and director of Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction Certificate programs at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Ruben also serves as guiding teacher of the Maria Kannon Zen Center in Dallas.

He was born in the Philippines, and as a young Jesuit, he was sent to Japan where he encountered Zen Buddhism. He practiced there for nearly two decades under the guidance of Yamada Koun Roshi of the Sanbo Zen lineage in Kamakura, Japan. He completed his doctoral studies in Buddhism at Tokyo University. He holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology at Sophia University in Tokyo, where he taught for many years.  

Habito is the author of numerous books on Buddhism, including Experiencing Buddhism: Ways of Wisdom and Compassion; Living Zen, Loving God; Healing Breath: Zen Spirituality for a Wounded Earth, and The Gospel Among Religions: Christian Ministry, Theology and Spirituality in a Multireligious World. His spouse, Maria Reis Habito, international program director of the Museum of Religions, is also a practitioner of Zen and scholar of Buddhism. Together they are the parents of two adult sons. 

Judith Simmer-Brown headshot
Judith Simmer-Brown, Team Co-Lead
Professor Emeritx of Contemplative and Religious Studies, Naropa University

Acharya Judith Simmer-Brown, PhD, is a founding faculty member and distinguished professor emeritx of Contemplative and Religious Studies at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. There, she collaborates with science faculty members on groundbreaking research on compassion and is co-editing a special issue on compassion and skillful means for Springer’s Mindfulness Journal. She serves on the Compassion Training Task Force for the Center for the Advancement of Contemplative Education at Naropa.

Originally a Zen Buddhist practitioner in the early 1970’s, she later became a student of Tibetan master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1974. She was empowered as an Acharya (senior teacher) by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche in 2000. She now teaches advanced Vajrayana retreats and programs, compassion programs, and introductory meditation classes and weekends in Shambhala. She served as dean of the Shambhala Teachers’ Academy from 2008–2016 and continues to mentor Shambhala teachers. Her book, Dakini’s Warm Breath (Shambhala 2001), is a scholarly study of the feminine principle as it reveals itself in meditation practice and everyday life for women and men.   

Simmer-Brown has become involved in the field of contemplative studies with the publication of her book, Meditation and the Classroom: Contemplative Pedagogy for Religious Studies (SUNY 2011). Her presentations on contemplative education include conferences of the Mind and Life Institute, Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education, and many universities. She co-chairs the Steering Committee for the Contemplative Studies Unit for the American Academy of Religion.

Simmer-Brown is semi-retired, and she enjoys personal retreats and time with her husband, Richard, and their children and grandchildren. They have a simple off-grid yurt overlooking a small canyon in the Rockies, and love gazing at the trees, birds, and sky in the silence of the mountains.  

Mark Unno headshot
Mark Unno, Team Co-Lead
Department Head of Religious Studies and Professor of Buddhist Studies, University of Oregon

Mark Ty Unno is a Buddhist Dharma teacher and scholar of Buddhist studies who is engaged in the fields of comparative religious thought, Buddhism and psychotherapy, and interreligious dialogue. Born into a family of Buddhist priests, he is the fourteenth-generation ordained minister in his family lineage of Shin Buddhism, of the Nishi Honganji, one of the largest schools in Japan. He was born in Los Angeles, California, and was raised in both Japan and the United States.

He is currently department head of Religious Studies and professor of Buddhist Studies at the University of Oregon, where he specializes in the formative and watershed periods in the development of Shin, Zen, and Shingon (Tantric) Buddhism. He also serves as the president of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies at the University of Oregon.

Among his mentors are his grandfather, Rev. Enryo Unno (who arrived in the United States in 1935 as a Shin Buddhist minister), the Zen master Nanrei Kobori of Ryoko-in (a sub-temple of Daitokuji, one of the major centers of Zen Buddhism in Japan), and the lay Zen philosopher, Keiji Nishitani. Unno spent five years in Japan, where he was a research fellow of the Japanese Ministry of Education and a visiting professor of Psychology and Religion at Kyoto University. There, he studied Buddhist philosophy and engaged in intensive Buddhist practice. He went on to receive his PhD in Religious Studies at Stanford University and has taught at Brown University and Carleton College.

Unno is the author of Shingon Refractions: The Buddhist Priest Myoe and the Mantra of Light (2004), a study of the medieval Japanese mantra practice and editor of Buddhism and Psychotherapy Across Cultures (2006). He has been a contributor to the Buddhist journals Tricycle, Lion’s Roar, and Buddhadharma: The Practitioner’s Quarterly

Christian Team

David Bentley Hart- headshot
David Bentley Hart, Team Co-Lead
Writer, scholar, translator

David Bentley Hart is a writer, scholar, and translator. He has held visiting chair positions and research fellowships at various universities over the years, but he considers himself principally a professional writer and cultural recusant. His written work encompasses a large range of genres—monographs, novels, short stories, essays on literary and cultural topics, academic articles, ephemera, extemporanea, and so forth. His academic training is in religious studies, philosophy, theology, classics, Asian religions and philosophies, and literature.

Bentley Hart was born in Maryland in 1965 and raised in the Anglo-Catholic (Laudian) wing of the Episcopal church. He attended the University of Maryland. At the University of Lancaster (UK) as an exchange scholar, Bentley Hart participated in a generous independent studies program that allowed him to combine a variety of disciplines in a single degree. He then earned a Master’s in Philosophy degree from the University of Cambridge in theology, with an emphasis on patristics and systematics, followed by a PhD from the University of Virginia in Religious Studies. Somewhere between undergraduate and graduate studies he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy.

Bentley Hart has one adult son, Patrick. He and his wife Solwyn live in South Bend, Indiana, where he is serving in a four-year research fellowship at the University of Notre Dame.

His principal theological influences include Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Maximus the Confessor, John Scotus Eriugena, the Rhineland Mystics, Nicholas of Cusa, and Sergii Bulgakov, though, as a wantonly syncretistic thinker, he has been no less influenced by Adi Shankara, Ramanuja, Ibn Arabi, Mulla Sadra, Guru Nanak, Moses de León, and countless others. 

Trent Pomplun headshot
Trent Pomplun, Team Co-Lead
Associate Professor of Theology, University of Notre Dame

Trent Pomplun is a writer, scholar-practitioner, and occasional spiritual director. He is currently associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. His areas of expertise include late medieval and early modern Catholic theology, the history of Catholic missions in Asia, and Indo-Tibetan religion and culture.

A native of East Texas, Pomplun grew up in a pluralistic religious environment. After majoring in Asian and Religious Studies at Rice University, he lived for a time in Kathmandu, Nepal, where he had the opportunity to study meditation with several Buddhist masters in the Tibetan community in exile. He continued his Tibetan Studies at the University of Virginia, eventually widening his studies to include the great theologians and mystics of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. 

Pomplun landed his first job at Loyola College in Maryland, where he fell in with the Jesuit tradition and learned the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Although he still teaches meditation and mental prayer using the Spiritual Exercises as his model, his theology and personal practice are strongly Franciscan and Orthodox in character. His theological heroes are Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius Ponticus, Maximus the Confessor, Isaac of Nineveh, Bonaventure of Bagnoregio, John Duns Scotus, Juan Arintero, and Jean Daniélou. When he’s not translating Tibetan texts, he enjoys cooking with his wife Samantha, hiking, and playing with his cats.

Confucian Team

Anna Sun headshot
Anna Sun, Team Lead
Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Sociology, Duke University

Anna Sun is associate professor of Religious Studies and Sociology at Duke University. She is a scholar of Confucianism in particular, and of contemporary Chinese religious life in general. Her research interests include the development of Global Confucianisms in the 21st century and the theoretical and methodological issues underlying the academic studies of religion. Born in Beijing, China, to parents who were ordinary intellectuals, she grew up in an environment infused with Confucian values that emphasized familial care, social responsibility, and the importance of learning. 

Her first book, Confucianism as a World Religion: Contested Histories and Contemporary Realities (Princeton University Press, 2013), received the Distinguished Book Award in sociology of religion from the American Sociological Association, and the Best First Book in the History of Religion Award from the American Academy of Religion. She also   co-edited a volume on the sociology of spirituality, Situating Spirituality: Context, Practice, and Power (with Brian Steensland and Jaime Kucinskas), which was published by Oxford University Press in 2021. She has recently edited two special journal issues: “Confucianism and Daoism: From Max Weber to the Present,” in the Review of Religion and Chinese Society (Brill, 2020), and "Empirical Studies of Contemporary Confucian Practice in Asia and Beyond," in Religions (MDPI, 2021). She has been vice president of the Society for the Study of Chinese Religions (2017–2020) and has served two terms as co-chair of the Chinese Religions Unit of the American Academy of Religion (2015–2021).

Hindu Team

Anantanand Rambachand headshot
Anant Rambachan, Team Lead
Emeritus Professor of Religion, Saint Olaf College

Anantanand Rambachan is emeritus professor of religion at Saint Olaf College, Minnesota. He was also visiting professor at the Academy for the Study of World Religions at the University of Hamburg in Germany (2013–2017).  He serves as board president of Arigatou International NY, a global organization advocating for the rights of children and mobilizing the resources of religions to overcome violence against children. He also chairs the board of the Minnesota Multifaith Network and was recently elected as co-president of Religions for Peace, the largest global interfaith network. Since 1986, he has served as a teacher at the Hindu Society of Minnesota.

Born in Trinidad and Tobago, is his early experiences with interreligious community have inspired his involvement in interreligious relations and dialogue for more than 40 years. He is active in the dialogue programs of the World Council of Churches and was a Hindu guest and presenter in four General Assemblies of the World Council of Churches. He is involved in the consultations of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue at the Vatican and participated as a Hindu theologian in the Ethics in Action dialogues at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. 

Rambachan’s books include Accomplishing the Accomplished: The Vedas as a Source of Valid Knowledge in Shankara; The Limits of Scripture: Vivekananda's Reinterpretation of the Authority of the Vedas; The Advaita Worldview: God, World and Humanity; A Hindu Theology of Liberation, Essays in Hindu Theology, and Pathways to Hindu-Christian Dialogue. The British Broadcasting Corporation aired a series of 25 of his lectures on Hinduism around the world. 

He resides in Apple Valley, Minnesota with his wife, Geeta. They are the parents of Ishanaa, Aksharananda, and Asheshananda.

Laura Dunn headshot
Laura Dunn, Secretary to the Hinduism Team
Associate faculty, the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley

Laura M. Dunn is a scholar-practitioner of nondual Tantric Śaivism, associate faculty at the Graduate Theological Union, and the Jesuit School of Theology’s writing program coordinator. Born and raised in Hawaiʻi to native Hawaiian, Chinese, and Austrian-Jewish parents, Laura comes from a diverse ethnic background. Growing up in a multicultural environment such as Hawai’i raised complex questions regarding the intersections between cultural and spiritual identity, globalization, and interreligious dialogue. Laura was introduced to haṭha yoga and tantric contemplative practices in her early twenties and noticed that, when presented properly, these practices could create an all-embracing meditative space for a diversity of people. Compelled by the capacity of yogic practices and nondual Tantric philosophies to create inner and outer unity, she taught yoga for almost twenty years and completed her Master's in Indian Religion at the University of Hawaiʻi.  

Laura recently completed her PhD at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley in 2021. Her monograph, Visualizing Power, is an interdisciplinary meditation on immersion into the tantric image of Śakti and appraises the capacity of tantric visualization to mediate the spatial-temporal distance between self and other. She is also the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Dharma Studies, the flagship journal of the GTU’s Center for Dharma Studies. She is a Presidential Scholar, Newhall Fellow, and Interreligious Collaborative Research Fellow. She enjoys photography, nature, and the arts and lives with her partner David and their cat, Hina.

Indigenous Team

Melissa Nelson headshot
Melissa Nelson, Team Lead
Professor, Arizona State University School of Sustainability, Global Futures Laboratory

Melissa K. Nelson is an ecologist, writer, media-maker, and Indigenous scholar-activist. She earned her PhD in ecology with an emphasis in Native American Studies at the University of California, Davis. Formerly a professor of American Indian Studies at San Francisco State University, she now teaches at Arizona State University in the School of Sustainability, Global Futures Laboratory. From 1993 to 2021, she served as the founding executive director and CEO of the Cultural Conservancy and continues to serve as president of their board. Melissa works for Indigenous rights, revitalization, and planetary well-being in higher education, nonprofits, and philanthropy.   

She is a contributor and co-editor of Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability (2018) and What Kind of Ancestor Do you Want to be? (2021).  She is also the editor and a contributor to Original Instructions: Indigenous Teachings for a Sustainable Future (2008). She is a founding board member of the Sogorea Te Land Trust and bundle holder for the Native American Academy. She has been deeply influenced and shaped by Native American knowledge holders, Zen Buddhism, and holistic scientists like David Bohm and Jane Goodall.  Melissa is Anishinaabe/Cree/Métis/Norwegian and an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians.

Interspirituality Team

Netanel Miles-Yepez headshot
Pir Netanel Miles-Yépez, Team Co-Lead
Co-founder and Director of Charis Foundation for New Monasticism & InterSpirituality and Professor of Religious Studies, Naropa University

Pir Netanel (Mu'in ad-Din) Miles-Yépez is an artist, philosopher, religion scholar, and spiritual teacher. He is the current head of the Inayati-Maimuni lineage of Sufism and is considered a leading thinker in the Interspiritual and New Monasticism Movements. Miles-Yépez is the co-founder and co-director of Charis Foundation for New Monasticism & Interspirituality, and a professor in the Department of Religious Studies at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. 

Born into a Mexican American family, in his late teens, Miles-Yépez discovered his family's hidden Jewish roots and began to explore Judaism and other religions seriously. After studying history of religions and comparative religions at Michigan State University, he moved to Boulder, Colorado to study with the innovative Hasidic master and leader in ecumenical dialogue, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, founder of the Jewish Renewal Movement. In 2004, he and Schachter-Shalomi co-founded the Inayati-Maimuni Order, fusing the Sufi and Hasidic principles of spirituality and practice espoused by Rabbi Avraham Maimuni in 13th-century Egypt with the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Hazrat Inayat Khan. Miles-Yépez has also studied with various Sufi masters and teachers of Buddhism, and counts Father Thomas Keating, Trappist monk and founder of the Centering Prayer Movement, as an important teacher.

Miles-Yépez has authored or edited more than thirty books, including The Merging of Two Oceans: Nine Talks on Sufism & Hasidism (2021), In the Teahouse of Experience: Nine Talks on the Path of Sufism (2020), My Love Stands Behind a Wall: A translation of the Song of Songs and Other Poems (2015), as well as The Common Heart: An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue (2006).

Rory McEntee headshot
Rory McEntee, Team Co-Lead
Co-Founder and Co-Director of the Charis Foundation for New Monasticism & InterSpirituality

Rory McEntee is an author, scholar, educator, and contemplative activist. As a close friend and mentee of the late Brother Wayne Teasdale, Rory helped found the Interspiritual Movement, traveling and participating in dialogues with world spiritual leaders, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. Rory served as administrator for the Snowmass InterSpiritual Dialogues—a 30-year project convened by Father Thomas Keating—engaging contemplative leaders from multiple faiths in intimate dialogue and contemplative practice. As a leader in the New Monastic Movement, Rory is a co-founder and co-director of the Charis Foundation for New Monasticism & InterSpirituality, which supports various projects in interspirituality and new monasticism, including the “Future of Religion and InterSpirituality” Dialogues, HeartFire Festivals, the Thomas Keating Interspiritual Seminars, and the Charis (Inter)Spiritual Formation Program.  

As a scholar, Rory did doctoral work in Applied Mathematics at the University of Southern California and is currently finishing up a PhD in Theological and Philosophical Studies in Religion at Drew University. His current research and writing concentrates on questions of democracy, contemplative spirituality, university life, religion, decolonial practice, and social justice. Rory also has interests in evolutionary theory, the nature of language, mysticism, consciousness studies, and philosophy. He teaches at Drew University, is co-author with Adam Bucko of The New Monasticism: An Interspiritual Manifesto for Contemplative Living (Orbis Books, 2015), and has published many essays on interspirituality, new monasticism, and the academic discipline of “theology without walls.”

Rory has served as a teacher, department head, and vice-principal in secondary education. He enjoys snowboarding, traveling the globe, playing basketball, and meditating.

Islamic Team

Mohamed Elsanousi headshot
Mohamed Elsanousi, Team Lead
Executive Director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers

Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi is the executive director of the Network for Religious and Traditional Peacemakers, a global network initiated by United Nations Mediation Support Unit, UN Alliance of Civilizations, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Religions for Peace, KAICIID Dialogue Center, and Finn Church Aid serving as the international secretariat for the Network.

Dr. Elsanousi was born in small village called Al-dabker in the West Kordofan province of Sudan. His education took him on a journey from Al-dabkar to Doha, Qatar, for high school education; to Islamabad, Pakistan, for undergraduate education in Shariah and Law from the International Islamic University, and finally, to the United States for a Master of Laws from Indiana University; a graduate diploma in philanthropic studies from the Indiana University Center on Philanthropy; and a PhD in Law and Society from the Indiana University School of Law.

Dr. Elsanousi served as the director of Community Outreach and Interfaith Relations for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) for 14 years. Dr. Elsanousi was the national liaison and representative for ISNA at numerous national and international inter-religious forums and conferences and has contributed articles in various books and journals. 

Dr. Elsanousi is the founding co-chair of Shoulder to Shoulder, and serves on the board of directors and advisors for numerous interfaith organizations, including the Board of Louis Finkelstein Institute and Milstein Center for Interreligious Dialogue at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, member of the United Nations Faith-based Advisory Council, advisor for the United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide and Responsibility to Protect, a trustee for the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, and member of the board of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). Dr. Elsanousi was recently elected to serve as a co-chair to the UN Multifaith Advisory Council. He served on the Core Group Taskforce for the Department of State's working group on Religion and Foreign Policy under US Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Jewish Team

David Rosen headshot
Chief Rabbi David Rosen, Team Lead
International Director of Interreligious Affairs and Director of Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding, American Jewish Committee

Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland, is the International Director of Interreligious Affairs at the American Jewish Committee and Director of its Heilbrunn Institute for International Interreligious Understanding. The third son of the renowned Rabbi Kopul Rosen (founding principal of Carmel College in England), David Rosen was born in Newbury, Berkshire, and was educated in England and Jerusalem. 

Rabbi Rosen is a member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Commission for Interreligious Dialogue; and serves on the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. He is a past chairman of IJCIC, the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. He is a member of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s Commission for Interreligious Dialogue and serves on the Council of the Religious Institutions of the Holy Land. Rabbi Rosen is an international president of the Religions for Peace and a member of the board of directors of the King Abdullah International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, which was established by the King of Saudi Arabia as well as the governments of Austria and Spain together with the Holy See. Additionally, he serves as the honorary president of the International Council of Christians and Jews, is on the Executive of the World Council of Religious Leaders, and is on the Elijah Interfaith Institute’s Board of World Religious Leaders.

He served in the Israel Defense Forces and was chaplain to the forces in West Sinai. Subsequently, he served as the Senior Rabbi of the largest Jewish congregation in South Africa, in Sea Point, Cape Town, as well as on the Cape Beth Din (Ecclesiastical Court). He was the founder/chairman of the Cape Inter-Faith Forum, the Council of Jews, Christians and Muslims. He is a past chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations. He has served as a member of the Executive Committee of the World Congress of Imams and Rabbis and as a member of the Executive Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Council for promoting relations and cooperation between the Muslim and Western worlds. He is a founder of Rabbis for Human Rights and the Rossing Centre for Education and Dialogue.

In addition to honorary doctorates, Rabbi Rosen is the recipient of various awards, including the Premio Galileo 2000 Award, the Raphael Lemkin Award for Human Rights, the Search for Common Ground Award for Interfaith Dialogue, Waldzell Institute Life Achievement Award (together with the Dalai Lama and Sheikh Ahmed El Tayeb), and the Festival of Faiths’ Lifetime Achievement Award. Rabbi Rosen married Sharon (nee Rothstein), Global Director of Religious Engagement, Search for Common Ground, in 1973; they have three daughters, three granddaughters, and three grandsons.

Sikh Team

Gopinder Sagoo Kaur  headshot
Gopinder Sagoo Kaur, Team Lead
Author and researcher

Dr. Gopinder Kaur Sagoo is the author of several educational resources on the Sikh faith, including an extensive range of Advanced Level Religious Studies material for the British exam boards, Edexcel and Eduqas. With Eleanor Nesbitt she co-wrote Guru Nanak, winner of the Shap Award 2000, and her writing for younger readers includes Places of Worship: Sikh Gurdwaras. Aside from writing for publication, she co-developed and presents the video resource Visiting Faiths – Sikh Gurdwara which was nominated for two Royal Television Society Awards. She has also been an intermittent Sikh contributor for BBC Radio 4’s Prayer for the Day.

A social scientist and linguist by training, she studied French and Russian at the University of Cambridge and obtained a Masters in South Asian Area Studies at the School of Oriental & African Studies, University of London. She later combined parenthood with doctoral research (School of Education, University of Birmingham), conducting a linguistic ethnographic study of the conceptual and social processes involved to establish the first Nishkam nursery in the UK. Dr. Gopinder also spent several years in children’s picture-book publishing, supporting the founders of the cross-cultural publisher, Barefoot Books, as a marketing and foreign rights manager working alongside the editorial and production team. 

Since moving from London to Birmingham two decades ago, Gopinder Kaur has been closely involved with the activities of the Guru Nanak Nishkam Education Trust and its sister organizations, where she serves under the overall spiritual guidance and leadership of Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh Ji. A Trustee of the Nishkam Civic Association, her civic involvements include contributing to the development of a ground-breaking, locally supported syllabus for religious education in Birmingham, centered on a framework of spiritual and moral dispositions to engage multifaith and secular perspectives in the classroom. She has collaborated to produce exhibitions for diverse audiences, including Sound and Silence: Prayer & Contemplation at the Heart of the City of Birmingham at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in 2014, and Guru Nanak: Life & Legacy at the Great Hall, University of Birmingham in 2019, marking the 500th anniversary of the founder of the Sikh faith.

Integral to these projects has been her informal learning within her faith, by virtue of being raised in a Sikh family, participating in gurudwara life, and actively associating with Sikh faith practitioners. Through this she also developed a lifelong love for kirtan, or devotional singing.

Fetzer Facilitation Team

Bill Vendley
William Vendley, Team Lead
Vice President, World Religions and Spirituality, Fetzer Institute

Bill Vendley is passionate about collaboration among the world’s different religious traditions. He currently serves at Fetzer as Vice President of World Religions and Spirituality. Before joining Fetzer in November 2019, Bill served for 25 years as the secretary-general of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization. In that role, he worked with religious communities in more than 90 countries to mount concrete projects in conflict resolution, protecting human dignity, and advancing integral human development that honors the full person while protecting the earth.

Bill served as an advisor to President Obama on the Multi-religious Cooperation and International Affairs Task Force of the White House Faith-Based Council. He was also an advisor to the US State Department Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Before his work in Religions for Peace, Bill was a professor and dean of a Roman Catholic graduate seminary. He studied Buddhism in Sri Lanka and practiced Zen meditation for five years in Japan. He also studied molecular biology at Purdue University and was the recipient of its Distinguished Alumni for Science Award in 2005. His graduate degrees are in systematic theology.

Bill is married to Yasuko Vendley, and together they enjoy a cross-cultural multi-religious partnership aligned with Fetzer’s commitment to building a more loving world.

Mohammed Mohammed
Mohammed Mohammed
Senior Program Officer and Advisor for shared sacred story, Fetzer Institute

Mohammed Mohammed is a senior program officer at the Fetzer Institute where he leads a portfolio of projects that focuses on the relationship between science and spirituality, spirituality and technology, and spirituality and health. Recent projects he is helping shape and manage include a longitudinal global human flourishing study, research on free will, and a mindfulness app that was named in the top three of its class by the New York Times. As part of his pursuit, he has co-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. His publications include “Communities and Freedom: Transforming Governance” in Why Love Matters: Values in Governance and “Enabling Community and Trust: Shared Leadership for Collective Creativity” in The Foundation Review.

Trained in the humanities, social sciences, and human-computer interactions, Mohammed is a philanthropy professional with decades of experience leading research, technology development, and programmatical projects around the world. He has worked in the academic and the corporate sectors before transitioning to philanthropy. Mohammed is an international traveler conversant in various languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions.

Meghan Lau
Meghan Campbell
Program Officer for shared sacred story, the Fetzer Institute

Meghan Campbell is a program officer for the Fetzer Institute. In this role, she coordinates the work of shared sacred story and supports the Southwest Michigan Initiative in local grantmaking and staff engagement. Prior to this work at Fetzer, Meghan supported Fetzer’s various grantmaking portfolios in project development and event planning, the Office of the President in research support, and she also spent time in Fetzer’s archives.

Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Meghan became involved with local interfaith engagement in graduate school. Through the efforts of Kaufman Interfaith Institute, Meghan was able to facilitate interfaith engagement for youth, plan events celebrating and educating folks on various religious traditions, and deepen the experience of her own faith tradition through her interactions with other faiths. This relational way of knowing and learning continues to be a touchstone of Meghan’s personal and professional life.

Meghan holds a master’s degree in Comparative Religion from Western Michigan University, and an undergraduate degree in Religion from Hope College. She lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with her husband, two dogs, and cat.

Review the Timeline

Phase One: Early 2023 – Nine ancient “retold” sacred stories available

Phase Two: 2023 – Scholar-Practitioner Teams engage work around discernment across nine stories

Phase Three: 2024 – Articulation of the shared sacred story and major launch events

Learn About the Process

Phase One: Nine Sacred Contemporary Retellings Using Spiritual AND Scientific Ways of Knowing (Early 2023)

There are many stories on our planet which represent diverse ways of knowing. We care as much about ancient religious and spiritual wisdom as we do about science in creating a shared sacred story for the human family.

Religion and spirituality have existed from the origin of humanity.
Fetzer has commissioned teams of scholar-practitioners within the following nine traditions: Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Indigenous Spiritualities, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, and newly emergent Inter-Spiritual Traditions. Each team, whose members are committed to living their respective tradition’s sacred story, will retell its origin story and translate its symbols in ways that speak to the entire human family in modern language of today’s time. We will invite participation from broader religious communities and public forums as well.

Harvesting spiritual ways of knowing means…

  • Navigating the intangible, ultimately unexplainable, mysterious aspects of life
  • Discerning deeply shared principles that help us live in harmony such as love, unity, and wisdom
  • Unearthing wisdom from our ancestors and developing practices for keeping it alive
  • Making sense of life, death, and ultimate purpose

Science in its modern form has existed for approximately 500 years.
Fetzer has commissioned a scientific team and invited scientific communities into public forums for interaction during the story’s creation. We will use the best of the natural and social sciences.

Harvesting scientific ways of knowing means…

  • Understanding how the human mind grasps aspects of the universe
  • Discerning global limits of sustainability
  • Highlighting the statistic correlation between meditation experience and mental health and human flourishing 
  • Illuminating the profound significance and nature of mutuality


Phase Two: Harmonizing Both Forms of Knowing (2023)

In the second stage of the project, Fetzer will explore the value of employing an adaptation of the scriptural reasoning approach pioneered by theologians and religious philosophers as a means of exploring the ways in which sacred scripture can help us respond to contemporary issues.

With the nine retellings of sacred stories and a synthesized scientific explanation of our origins, the teams will work to identify equivalences and complementarities across the stories. Each has symbols of origins and destiny, good and evil, etc. Behind each story is an experience of sacred mystery.

We will undertake this exercise with great care and the recognition that each religious tradition will retain its own historic story and that a shared sacred story can only approximate the full wealth of diverse historic sacred stories. Particular attention will be paid to each retelling’s primordial experiences of light and love.


Phase Three: Publishing a shared sacred story (2024)

Building upon discerned equivalences and complementarities and open to relevant science on human flourishing, we will attempt to express a version of a shared sacred story for today’s time. The resulting story will be in poetic form—aka, heart language—rooted in humanity’s history of the sacred, informed by science, honoring diversity of religious experience, and can live side by side with historic faith stories.

Fetzer will publish and ensure wide international distribution of the shared sacred story in 2024. All science and spiritual teams will be listed as co-authors.    

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