Today I went with Thomas, Ruth, Joseph and Noor Malika to meet with Varun Soni and Jim Burklo, who are deans of Religious Life at USC. We discussed plans for our upcoming Parliament of the World's Religion event, scheduled for Sunday, October 11, and focusing on Gandhi and the interfaith movement. We had a good discussion and more or less finalized the program for the day. We still need to determine the speakers and workshops, but the structure and plan are now in place.
We also tossed around ideas for titles for this event: "Gandhi and the Interfaith Adventure" and "'Gandhi Remixed': Religious Pluralism and Nonviolence in Today's World." We haven't yet decided which is more "sexy."
It feels very good to be collaborating with USC. This university has made a major commitment to interfaith education and has bold plans for the future. Here's some background from their website:
"For the past decade, the University of Southern California has been bringing together students of diverse faiths through its Office of Religious Life. The Office accredits more than 70 student religious organizations from 11 different religious traditions, encouraging each group in its own particular practice and providing opportunities for multi-faith learning that have garnered national acclaim, placing USC religious life among the top five in the country.
"USC now proposes to create a setting unparalleled in any other instutution of higher education -- a center dedicated to interfaith learning and particular practice side by side with the academic study of religion. Designated The Multi-Faith Center for Research, Reflection and Practice, this will be an educational entity as well as a physical place where students' informed awareness of world religions, including their cultural and political context, will be stimulated by a broad range of meaningful contacts and programs" (see http://www.usc.edu/programs/religious_life/multifaith_center/)
Varun explained to us some of the plans that his office has to reach out to the local schools and create an interfaith curriculum that could be used as a model nationally. This curriculum will be academic in nature and avoid promoting any particular religion--a challenging assignment, but well worth undertaking since we live in a world where better understanding among different religious faiths is urgently needed.
President Obama clearly sees this need and has established an interfaith council. Joshua DuBois, a former Associate Pastor and Advisor to Obama in his US Senate office and Campaign Director of Religious Affairs, has been appointed to lead this office. Eboo Patel, an Ishmaili Muslim and founder of Interfaith Youth Core, has also been appointed to this 25-member council. It is very encouraging to see our President show such concern for interfaith work.
There is also an initiative for the United Nations to declare 2011-2020 the "Decade of Interreligious Understanding and Peace" (see http://faithdecadeforpeace.net/history/).
I am glad to be part of this historic movement and to play a part, however small, in promoting religious pluralism and a nonviolent world. I feel as if I am truly on an adventure, like the time when Janet and I did our little bit to promote Soviet-American understanding and help to end the Cold War!