1. Elijah Summer School Examines Religious Leadership
Close to 30 students from 11 different countries participated in the Elijah Summer School and Interfaith Leadership Seminar held this month in Jerusalem. The theme was “Religious Leadership: Ideals and Challenges” and the study program consisted of theoretical learning and case studies, as well as visits to holy and historical sites.
The faculty was drawn from Elijah’s Interfaith Academy, who appeared in person or via Skype, as well as guest presenters, supporting Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein and Peta Jones Pellach, who accompanied students throughout and provided the framework for students to compare, contrast, analyse and evaluate the various presentations they heard.
The summer school launched a new partnership with the Academy of World Religions in Hamburg, through the support of the Forum Humanum Foundation.
One approach to the study of leadership was to focus on major leaders in today’s religions, exemplifying the best of their traditions. To this end, we included in the program case-studies presented by those close to the leaders or with expert knowledge of them and their work.
Dr Vanessa Sasson, is a professor of Religious Studies in the Liberal Arts Department of Marianopolis College. She was a participant in the first Elijah Summer School and has been part of the think tank for years. She gave a talk on the Dalai Lama as a case study of religious genius . As a scholar and practitioner of Buddhism, Vanessa was able to provide a perspective more academic and less hagiographic than is usually heard, while still highlighting the exceptional qualities of leadership that the Dalai Lama has.
Rabbi Gideon Sylvester is a student of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and was delighted to be able to present him to participants as an exemplary world religious leader. After describing the various teachers and leaders who influenced the Rabbi, (making particular reference to the last Lubavitcher Rebbe), Gideon described the various activities of Rabbi Sacks which set him apart from others. He did hold a formal position – Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth –, but the formal title is not what sets him apart. Indeed, he really rose to the ranks of “great world religious leader” through his scholarship, his compassionate approach and his outstanding oratory.
Dr Amanda J Lucia was our scholar on the model of leadership of Amritanandai Ma (Amma), having spent many years researching her life, including accompanying her on a number of her tours. She drew on her book, provide title Unlike our other scholars, Amanda does not follow the faith of the leader about whom she is the expert but she admitted to having responded to Amma’s charisma, particularly with regards to the blessing she gave to her, at the time, unborn child.
Bishop William Shomali, Auxiliary Bishop and Patriarchal Vicar for Jerusalem and Palestine, himself having achieved a significant role of religious leadership, presented on the leadership of Pope Francis, who is widely admired by many not of the Catholic faith as well as his own followers. The current Pope has the gift of being able to speak to the hearts of ordinary people. His leadership is exemplified by his ability to communicate, with both authority and humility.
Grand Mufti Mustapha Ceric, a member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, gave us the honour of presenting to participants in person, via Skype. He addressed the challenges of leadership in Islam, stating upfront that it was not for him to defend Islam against its many detractors. He did offer, however, an appraisal of the state of Muslim leadership globally.
The Sharing Wisdom section of our newsletter is comprised of the wisdom of the religious leaders discussed above.The Dalai Lama, accepting the Nobel Prize, December 1989:
As a Buddhist monk, my concern extends to all members of the human family and, indeed, to all sentient beings who suffer. I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood. We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share. Although I have found my own Buddhist religion helpful in generating love and com passion, even for those we consider our enemies, I am convinced that everyone can develop a good heart and a sense of universal responsibility with or without religion.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, March 2016:
Today, [however], all religions face a challenge. The world is changing at an ever-accelerating pace. Meanwhile, societies in the West are abandoning the religious ethic that once made them great. The dominant culture in Europe today is secular, consumerist, individualist and relativistic, offering little by way of moral guidance, and still less in terms of a sense of the sacred.
Mata Amritanandamayi, address at the Parliament of World’s Religions, Chicago, 1993:
“Love for humanity arises in one who has experienced the Truth. In that fullness of Divine Love blossoms the beautiful, fragrant flower of compassion. Compassion does not see the faults of others. It does not see the weaknesses of people. It makes no distinction between good and bad people. Compassion cannot draw a line between two countries, two faiths or two religions. Compassion has no ego. Thus there is no fear, lust or passion. Compassion simply forgives and forgets. Compassion is like a passage; everything passes through it, nothing can stay there. Compassion is love expressed in all its fullness.
Pope Francis, September 2013:
“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”. This, dear brothers and sisters, allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message.
Grand Mufti Ceric, 2012:
In this short article on the occasion of September 21, 2012 that has been proclaimed as the International Day of Peace, Sustainable Peace for a Sustainable Future,I have tried to show that the very word of Islam and Muslim carries the message of peace and security in the world. .. the fact that Islam is portrayed as a religion of violence and Muslim is seen as a man of terror and terrorism should not confuse genuine Muslims to believe in peace and work for peace in the world.
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