The yearlong series on religion in public life featured scholars from different faith traditions.
Chicago Public Radio and the Chicago Tribune are among the media that covered the yearlong focus on interfaith engagement.
The influential theologians who graduated from the College a century ago left a deep impact on Elmhurst and the world.
In an age marked by religious violence and intolerance, faith has the potential to bridge divides and bring people together.
That was a major theme of the College’s yearlong focus on religion, Still Speaking: Conversations on Faith. The lecture series featured some of the world’s most prominent public intellectuals, religious leaders and newsmakers. They represented a variety of religious traditions: Islam, Judaism, Catholicism, evangelical Christianity, and Protestant denominations, including the United Church of Christ (UCC), with which Elmhurst is affiliated. In different ways, they explored religion’s role in public life and the promise of interfaith engagement.
The series fed a public appetite for substantive discussion of religion. Last fall’s opening program, which featured New York Times columnist David Brooks, drew more than 1,000 people to campus. Subsequent events attracted overflow crowds.
“I was impressed by how hungry people were for serious talk about religion,” said Elmhurst President S. Alan Ray. “Not everyone agreed with everything that was said. But people avidly joined in because they believe these are serious topics.”
The yearlong series also caught the attention of the media and generated coverage on Chicago Public Radio's Eight Forty Eight, the Chicago Tribune, the online publication Inside Higher Ed and other outlets.
Several speakers, including Father Jack Wall, president of the Catholic Extension Society, the
Reverend Bernice Powell Jackson, president of the North American Region of the World Council of Churches, Wheaton College Chaplain Stephen Kellough and Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, asserted that interfaith dialogue is an important step to breaking down barriers.
Embracing diversity will enable a new sense of community that gives man divine powers to shape the world for the better, said Father Wall: “We are at a crossroads moment.”
John Shelby Spong, the pioneering former Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey, spoke in April about Christianity’s continuing denigration of gays. “You and I cannot be fully human if we denigrate any other person’s humanity,” he said. “It is our purpose to give life abundantly. There is no room for prejudice in that vocation.”
James Carroll, the author of Constantine’s Sword, a sprawling history of anti-Semitism in the Catholic Church, delivered the Holocaust Guestship Lecture in April as part of Elmhurst’s 21st annual Holocaust Education Project. “The Jewish genocide was not an aberration,” Carroll argued, “but the culmination of Christianity’s long-standing battle against Judaism.”
In March, Ray joined Walter Brueggemann, a renowned Old Testament scholar and member of Elmhurst’s class of 1955, for a conversation on the nature of evil and humankind’s relationship to God. Brueggemann pointed out that classical notions of God as all-powerful and all-good are not rooted in the Bible, which describes God as “capable of fidelity but also capable of infidelity. We have a big unlearning to do about those notions,” he said.
Other speakers included Eboo Patel, the founder and executive director of the Chicago nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core, who led a panel discussion on Islamophobia; and Michael Pfleger, the activist pastor of Chicago’s St. Sabina Parish, who called on churches, mosques and synagogues to end complacency and fight poverty and racism.
Still Speaking takes its name from the UCC’s “God Is Still Speaking” initiative, an ongoing campaign to reaffirm the church’s role as a welcoming, justice-minded community. Still Speaking celebrates the graduation centennial of Reinhold Niebuhr (1910) and H. Richard Niebuhr (1912), Elmhurst alumni who went on to become two of the 20th century’s most influential theologians.