Who Is A Religious Genius?

An international group explores a concept

Renee Garfinkel Ph.D.
Time Out

18 August 2015

In a small classroom, in a Catholic convent, in the Muslim quarter of the Old City section of the capital of the Jewish State, an international group of students gathered to study exemplary religious figures. Students and faculty of this seminar included French and Italian nuns, secular individuals, retirees and academics from Argentina, Australia, England, Bosnia, Israel and the U.S. They gathered, physically and virtually, to explore the concept of religious genius.

By joining modern tools of communication with classical tools of the humanities – especially history and philosophy –the group worked to find common “genius” in the lives and work of major figures in several world religions.

The summer school was, in effect, an early round of fieldwork testing of a category constructed by scholars associated with the Elijah Interfaith Institute; a nonprofit, interfaith, international organization. Using case studies, the group examined subjects’ biographical material, writings and history.

To be considered a genius in any field requires something more than just a high level of mastery. Genius involves imagination and creativity along with mastery. Religious genius demands even more – commitment to transcendent values, personal character traits, and the ability to impact others in a positive manner. The religious genius has a transformative effect on society.

Just as the group was about to convene, a new study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study results support the relevance of this group’s work to the larger society. In fact, the reported results are encouraging to all those who study, practice and advocate healthy forms of religion.

It turns out that people who participate in religion enjoy more sustained happiness!

This is a particularly surprising finding, given that the subjects in the study live in Europe, where religion is less popular than in most other parts of the world. Nevertheless, based on a sample of 9,000 Europeans, researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that the secret to sustained happiness lies in participation in religion..