Wisdom Newsletter | Elijah Takes Leadership Seriously

In this issue:

1. Announcing another volume in our Interreligious Reflections series – The Future of Religious Leadership: World Religions in Conversation

2. Training the next generation of leaders – Elijah Interfaith Summer School and Leadership Training Institute

3. Religious leaders to discuss “Sharing Wisdom” in Jerusalem

4. Sharing Wisdom – The Leaders’ Prayer

1. The Future of Religious Leadership: World Religions in Conversation

Elijah is proud to announce another volume in our Interreligious Reflections series on the topic of “Religious Leadership”. This volume is based on the work of the Elijah Academy in preparation for the Fourth Meeting of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders but has been updated to include references to contemporary leaders such as Pope Francis.

The essays address the subject of religious leadership, a topic germane to religious thought, where reflections on religious leadership occupy an important place. What does it mean to be a religious leader in today’s world? To what degree are the challenges that confront religious leadership the perennial challenges that have arrested the attention of the faithful and their leaders for generations, and to what degree do we encounter today challenges that are unique to our day and age? One dimension is surely unique and that is the very ability to explore these issues from an interreligious perspective and to consider challenges, opportunities and strategies across religious traditions. Some challenges confront leaders of all traditions, and therefore unite them. Studying the theme across six faith traditions—Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Buddhism—we recognize the common challenges to present day religious leadership.

Alon Goshen-Gottstein has edited the series and he opens the volume with a summary of the themes covered collectively and also identifies the different emphases and unique contributions in the individual essays.

His summary of the collective wisdom in the volume concludes with the following observation:

“As we seek to deal with both systemic and contemporary challenges, we are drawn to imagining religious leadership for the future. Such imagining leads us to reflect on how leadership can reconnect with the ultimate vision of each tradition, as a means of drawing strength for dealing with challenges. It also takes us to the field of education and leadership training and to reflections on how future leaders could be better trained to meet perennial and contemporary challenges. I hasten to add that our greatest contribution lies in the analysis and in presenting the parallels between different religions. All our authors espouse a vision of well rounded leadership, informed by multiple concerns and aptitudes. Our contribution is, however, more visionary than practical. We are not able to make specific curricular suggestions for each of the religions. The contexts of religion, denomination and country vary too widely to do so. If we are able to inspire to a vision, it will be up to those in charge of educational institutions that train future religious leaders, to translate these ideals into specific curricular and practical recommendations. There are two themes that should, nevertheless, be highlighted in terms of future training of religious leaders. The first is the importance of knowledge of other religious traditions and of interfaith dialogue. All our authors are of the conviction that being a religious leader in today’s world is in some way also being an interreligious leader, and that interreligious work is now part of the mandate of the religious leader. Accordingly, all our authors emphasize the importance of contact with other religions as an important element in the future training of religious leaders. The other theme, much indebted to the inspiration of the Fetzer Institute, that has hosted and supported our work, is forgiveness. All our authors reflect on how as religious traditions move on and deal with novel and complex realities, forgiveness is an important tool that must serve them in their evolution and in articulating their future vision. “

Awet Andemicael and Miroslav Volf authored the chapter on Christianity and they emphasise how centrally God is viewed as the goal and the means of religious leadership. Volf and Andemicael focus their attention on what is a Christian leader and what is the specificity of Christian leadership. The starting premise is that Christian leadership is more than the fact that Christians are leading other Christians.

By framing the question in this way, Volf and Andemicael invite us all to reflect upon what makes leadership specific, typical and representative of a religious tradition, other than the fact that it is being carried out within and behalf of members of that particular tradition. Their answer may be framed in terms that are too specifically Christian to be universal, but it does allow us to consider how clear focus on the telos and the ultimate aims of the tradition can help define the character of leadership. Volf and Andemicael’s answer is that Christian leadership is modelled after the leadership of Jesus. It is specific because it refers so clearly to the founder of the Christian faith. Jesus is the model of Christian leadership. Jesus, of course, represents a very specific way of leading, through servant ministry. The greatest is also the servant, a fact captured in the celebrated gesture of feet washing, that Jesus performs for his disciples. Service is thus fundamental to a definition of Christian ministry, and along with it comes a surprising reversal of relations of power and authority. Christian leadership thus subverts conventional conceptions of leadership.

The authors’ quest for authentic Christian leadership leads them to declare that for leadership to be authentically Christian, it must grow out of the heart of the Christian faith. God is at the center of Christian faith, and leadership is presented by the authors through the threefold formula, found in the writings of the Apostle Paul – “From him [God] and to Him and through Him are all things”. Christian leaders are from God, that is they are not self appointed, but constituted by God’s call. Volf and Andemicael are aware of the positioning of the leader between God and the community, describing the leader as coming from God privileges God as the source and authority for the leader above all other considerations.

Timothy Gianotti offers us a survey of Islamic understandings of Religious Leadership: Past, Present and Future.

His presentation presents what leadership is about through a more detailed survey of the historical forms of Muslim leadership. We recognize immediately features that are common to leadership, as we learned about it in the Christian context. The goal is returning to God and the leader’s task is ultimately to facilitate the return journey to God for each and every person.

Leadership is again modelled on the notion of the ideal leader. For Islam this is the prophet, with special emphasis upon the prophet Muhammad, who in some sense is the model for all future Muslim religious leadership. The prophets are able to comprehend the ultimate purpose for which mankind was created and to couple this understanding with the practical wisdom manifest in practical revelation, such as concrete laws, by means of which the individual and the community are led to the realization of the supreme goal. Paradise, as the site of reunion with God as well as the just society on earth, along with the gaining of spiritual knowledge and the acquisition of virtues, are all different manifestations of the prophetic vision as it comes into realization. The model of the prophet Muhammad is one of integrated leadership, including the spiritual, material as well as the political and even martial domains.

Gianotti presents three types of leadership in Islam. First are the preservers and protectors of the community and the prophetic legacy. Preservation emerges as an important feature of leadership, both preservation of the community and preservation of the teaching. Second are those who act as spiritually informed restorers of “authentic” prophetic legacy, and finally we encounter the third type of leader, who works within and through the prophetic legacy to guide the faithful to some experience or vision of the supreme end – God. We note that the frame of reference for all three types is prophecy, and the driving quest is to realize prophecy, both through personal experience and through the historical life of the community.

The discussion of Muslim leadership identifies the perennial, systemic challenges in relation to embodying the essence of the faith. The leader is a model who is supposed to embody the faith, inspiring others to follow suit. Again, the true leader is called to go beyond the normal ego self, making himself a mirror to reflect divine attributes. The highest religious challenge is not to do something, but how to be. Humility again emerges as a constitutive feature of the true spiritual leader.

Meir Sendor’s essay on Judaism presents the notion of servant leadership that we encountered in relation to Christianity not only as the heart of Jewish leadership, but actually as the core vision of Judaism. Judaism is presented as service: service of God and service of man, which is itself a way of serving God.

Sendor notes that this understanding of leadership is subversive, in that it constitutes an alternative vision to that of power and prerogative. Instead, Judaism offers the vision of responsibility actualized through service. What makes such service transformative is the suspension of self interest, ultimately of the self itself.

Sendor, himself a communal rabbi at the time of writing, opens for us a window onto the range of activities associated with rabbinic life, which is governed by two notions. The first is service, reflected in the sense of responsibility to the welfare of others. A broad range of activities and capacities, relating to life’s various challenges, are called forth through this service. The key is care for others and deep empathy. The other characteristic to emerge from Sendor’s presentation is the centrality of teaching to the vocation of the religious leader. While teaching of all aspects of the Torah are the vocation of the rabbi, great emphasis is placed upon teaching the halacha, the Jewish law.

In the case of Judaism too, we identify an archetypal teacher, who is the basis for emulation. This is Moses. The composite nature of Moses’ leadership makes him an ideal role model for the various dimensions associated with Jewish leadership. Still, to the extent that one thinks of him primarily as a teacher, as the common designation “Moses our Teacher” (literally: our Rabbi) suggests, teaching emerges as a major constitutive activity, in light of which Moses, and all future leaders, are appreciated. A Jewish leader is both insider and outsider to the community, standing slightly apart. Theologically, he is part of the community, sharing its values, like everyone else, only more so. In practical terms, he is somewhat removed. This distance allows him to represent God to the community and to be more effective in his work. One important expression of this is the leader’s ability to facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation precisely thanks to the measure of distance he brings to communal relations.

Sikh perspectives on leadership are presented in Balwant Dhillon’s paper. The two core teachings of the founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, are the unity of God and the brotherhood/sisterhood of mankind. His message is that of social criticism, whereby he criticizes the existing social order in India and the various evils found in society. Guru Nanak thus challenges evil in society in the name of ultimate standards.

Guru Nanak, is viewed as a prophet, a mouthpiece of God and one who derives his authority from God and he propounds a set of ideals that are important for any discussion of leadership. He remains the ideal model, with all Sikh gurus serving as models for perfection to be emulated by others. Sikh leadership draws on Guru Nanak in various ways. First, the chain of ten Gurus, beginning with him, are said to be expressions of the one and same spirit, manifested in Guru Nanak. Accordingly, later Gurus contribute to Sikh scriptures in the name of Guru Nanak, even though historically their own later utterances are recorded.

Balwant Dhillon’s paper illustrates the various ritual and practical ways through which the Sikh veneration of Scripture is expressed in the life of the community. Scripture is not simply the word of the prophet, but is conceived of as the living Guru. This is a component of the Sikh conception of leadership. But Sikh leadership draws on another dimension, the community. Authority in secular matters was entrusted to the Khalsa Panth, the community. The collective body of the Sikhs was made the supreme authority of the Sikhs. Leadership of the community lay in collective wisdom.

To these two aspects of Sikh leadership – Scripture and community – we should add a third, personal religious leadership. While no Sikh leader has the authority or power of the original Sikh Gurus, they continue to inspire leadership and to produce a variety of spiritual types. The challenges facing Sikh leadership revolve around two foci – the preservation of doctrinal originality or purity and the maintenance of social unity within the Sikh community. The breakdown of comprehensive leadership and the challenge of maintaining the proper relationship with both the political and the military dimensions remain ongoing challenges for Sikh religious leadership.

Anantanand Rambachan’s presentation of Religious Leadership in Hinduism highlights the role of the teacher, the Guru. As Rambachan teaches us, the core responsibility of the Guru is to remove the ignorance that blinds us all. What we discover when this ignorance is removed is the unity of all being.

Rambachan’s presentation develops the notion of teacher as the primary mode of Hindu religious leadership, complemented by another kind of leadership, the leadership in ritual matters provided by the priest, the purohita. While the priest provides for the ongoing ritual needs of the family and of society, the truly important leader is the religious leader, the Guru and the quest for wisdom. Hinduism stands in stark contrast to how the other religions understand themselves. To begin with, the teacher is not a prophet, nor does the tradition point back to some prophetic ideal. In fact, the tradition points back to no ideal at all, lacking, as it does, a founder figure. Of all religions under discussion in our project, Hinduism is the only religion that does not follow the pattern of imitation of an originary founding figure. It is a wisdom tradition, rather than a prophetic tradition, as are the four traditions discussed above.
The goal of the tradition, obtained within the proper teaching relationship with the Guru, is the knowledge of God and the removal of ignorance that is the fundamental human condition. Overcoming ignorance, awakening to God and living a life centered in God constitute the fundamental purpose of human existence. All this is attained in relation to the teacher, who is Hinduism’s primary religious leader.

The tremendous import attached to the Guru make the choice of Guru and his attributes matters of urgent concern. Much more is involved in the making of the ideal teacher than the mere acquisition of knowledge, or familiarity with the tradition and its canon of teaching and behavior. The ideal teacher has integrated knowing and being, a fact described as being established in brahman, the divine absolute, and living from that center. This way of being is characterized by contentment, freedom from greed, compassion and service. These attributes are important for any reflection on leadership. We note, once again, the strong emphasis on service. Here service comes together with compassion, that provides the motivation for sharing teaching with others. The personal qualities of the teacher are important both for his relationship with others and for the broader testimony he offers. Teacher-disciple relations are easily corruptible, if the weaknesses of human nature get in the way. In order to offset dangers of abuse and control, the teacher must be free from greed and derive his contentment from the absolute, from the spiritual life that he leads. The qualities of the teacher make him a role model.

The final paper in our collection is Maria Reis-Habito’s presentation of leadership in Buddhism. In some ways we are at the opposite point on the spectrum, considering our starting point was the Christian view of leadership. If Christian leadership is grounded in God, Buddhist leadership does not relate to the notion.

Buddhism views its leadership as following the role model of the founder of the religion, the Buddha. The ultimate goal of the Buddhist leader is nothing other than to follow in the footsteps of the Buddha. While Reis-Habito does not enter a detailed discussion of the meaning of following in the footsteps of the Buddha, it is likely that it is understood in similar ways to how Moses serves as a role model in Judaism. For most it is by way of example, while for some schools, a stronger understanding of participation in the Buddha’s being may be implied.

How Buddhism understands its ultimate purpose affects its view of the nature and purpose of leadership. The ultimate end of Buddhism as a religion can be described as the realization of the liberating Wisdom of seeing things as they are, that is, as interconnected, thereby generating the compassion that flows from this wisdom. Wisdom and compassion thus emerge as the keywords for understanding Buddhism. They are also the keywords for understanding Buddhist leadership. Following in the Buddha’s footsteps involves a twofold movement. First is a movement away from the world in seeking, and arriving at the wisdom of awakening, whereby one sees “things as they are,” that is, as mutually interconnected. This leads to the outflow of boundless compassion, a movement which brings one back to the world in order to liberate sentient beings from suffering.

While Buddhism has had to come to terms with leadership as part of the reality of the world as well as with the need to organize the Buddhist community, ultimately there is nothing that distinguishes leadership from the broader community. The goals and the means for their attainment are the same for leaders and for the community and much that is said in relation to Buddhist leaders is, in fact, simply an extension of the teaching aimed at the entire community. This also provides the background for the rise of lay movements and of lay leadership that emerge as dominant features in the modern Buddhist landscape. Because Buddhist leadership categories are secondary to the tradition’s core teaching and grow out of historical need, Reis-Habito is able to survey a variety of forms of leadership emerging in the different political and cultural situations in which Buddhism has taken root.

This volume is unique in the Interreligious Reflections series in that includes as an appendix a study-guide to enable the volume to be used by teachers and interfaith dialogue leaders.
Peta Jones Pellach [picture] prepared the study-guide, which includes questions for discussion and guided text-study.


2. Training the next generation of leaders – Elijah Interfaith Summer School and Leadership Training Institute

Last year, participants in the summer school focused on the theme of “Religious Leadership: Ideals and Challenges.” Members of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, including Grand Mufti Ceric and Rabbi Menachem Hacohen, were joined by local scholars and other members of the Elijah Academy by Skype in order to present a challenging series of lectures which were supplemented by text-study, bibliodrama and visits to sacred sites in Jerusalem and beyond.

This year, the theme will be “Sharing Wisdom”.
This is your opportunity for an experience of a lifetime. See below how you can join the program at no cost to you!

The Elijah Interfaith Summer School and Interreligious Training Seminar is the experience of a lifetime. Set in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, simply being there is a pilgrimage, a journey to discover significant meaning and undergo spiritual transformation. The program is a combination of serious academic engagement, shared spiritual experience and the development of skills which enable participants to take their learning back to their communities and influence their respective communities. The faculty includes members of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders and Elijah Interfaith Academy.

If you live in Jerusalem and are willing to host an overseas participant in your home for the duration of the summer school, you will receive a full scholarship to attend the entire program (July 23 – August 3, 2017).

Check out our website for more details. Contact us at admin@elijah-interfaith.org if you have any questions.

3. Religious leaders to discuss “Sharing Wisdom” in Jerusalem

The Brahma Kumaris movement and the American Jewish Committee in Jerusalem are partnering with Elijah to present an evening on “Sharing Wisdom: What Religions Can Learn from Each Other” featuring Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Brahma Kumaris scholars in conversation.

Included in the program will be member of the Elijah Board of World Religious Leaders, Rabbi David Rosen, and Didi Sudesh, a leader of the Brahma Kumaris movement, Fr David Neuhaus, Latin Patriarchal Vicar of Jerusalem and Shaikh Muhammad  Sharif Odeh.

Monday 12th June, 7:30pm at the AJC, 11 Mesilat Yesharim. Jerusalem.
Contribution NIS 20, students free.


4. Sharing Wisdom

The following prayer that grows out of this project has been used by The Australian National Dialogue of Christians, Muslims and Jews. We invite religious leaders of different faiths to use it as source of common wisdom and inspiration.

The Leaders’ Prayer (Alon Goshen-Gottstein, 2009)

Our Lord
We stand before you not merely as individuals but as members of communities, and as children of a common humanity.
We recognize that in truth we are no better than those we seek to serve and who have appointed us to our offices.
We, as leaders, and our communities are making our way towards greater understanding, fuller love and deeper humility. We are making our way towards You.
As we advance, we recognize that we have a special role to play, for the benefit of others.
We are called to remind others of the goal, but for this we must remember it ourselves.
We are called to embody the faith, but for this we must ourselves be filled with faith.
We are called to model the highest ideals, but for this we must not lose sight of them.

We therefore ask you:
Make us worthy instruments in the service of a higher truth.
Let us remember that whatever we are able to accomplish, we do so not by our own power, but by yours.
Help us to keep our sights on the highest goals and not to compromise them in our weakness.
Protect us and help us not succumb to the temptations of power, greed and ego
Let us embody a spirit of true service to all
Let our hearts be full of compassion to all
Let the spirit of true humility inform all our actions

Oh Lord,
May we be instruments of unity, within our individual religions and between our diverse traditions
May we be inspired by divine wisdom, as we navigate and guide our faiths and our faithful
May we be beacons of useful, effective and living knowledge, that nourishes the souls of the faithful and guides them in their spiritual lives.
May we be fully transparent to you, recalling at every step that it is not we who are guiding our traditions, but it is you, our Lord.