Mrs. Robicheau, Director of the Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche Meditation Center, was one of twenty five students in the UTS intensive that ran from May 19 to May 24. The youngest participant was a twenty-year-old college student from the University of Maryland, who is leading an interfaith group on her campus; the oldest was an eighty two year old Bishop from the United Methodist Church, who felt “empowered” through the course to go back to his country, Zimbabwe, “with the knowledge of what to do, how to do it, and with whom to do it with.”
Participants were not only diverse in age and experience, but also in nationality and religion. In all, fifteen countries were represented and five major religions: Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. Twelve of the students were Ambassadors for Peace with the Universal Peace Federation. About half of the participants were enrolled in a UTS degree program. The mix of young students and experienced religious leaders, together with the array of nationalities and religions represented, strengthened the program for all participants.
While some students, like Jana, found the relationships they made the most valuable part of the course, others found the practical skills to “drive interfaith dialogue and bring peace” the most meaningful. Adama Doumbia, from Cote D’Ivoire, for example, called the course an “oasis of resources for the field.” Rev. Doumbia gained “incredibly valuable” training that he intends to utilize in order to address conflicts between Christian and Muslim communities in Africa.
Another one of the strengths of the course, identified by many participants in a course evaluation, was the balance of theoretical and experiential education. Each day started with lectures by Dr. Frank Kaufmann, who drew upon his thirty years experience leading interfaith programs around the world, and concluded with site visits. Students also learned from each other as they discussed lectures and site visits in small groups during meals, traveling, and in the dedicated time for reflections at the start of each day.
The content of the morning lectures focused on understanding four dimensions of interfaith work critical for effective interfaith leadership: spiritual, religious, social and technical. In the lecture on the “Spiritual Dimension”, students considered such topics as God, the Spiritual Realm, and Divine Order. In the lecture on the “Religious Dimension”, students looked at the role of religious founders, dogma, traditions, structures, and sacred embodiments, or holy things. In the lecture on the “Social Dimension”, students considered how history, geography, politics, economics andeducation all impact interfaith work. In the final lecture on the “Technical Dimension”, students learned strategies for interfaith, the importance of both intra and inter religious activity, moving from dialogue of words to dialogue of action, making the best use of material resources, effective administration, and community maintenance, or ways to protect investments in interfaith work.
Since students resided at the Barrytown Campus they were able to take full advantage of the religious diversity of New York’s Hudson Valley Region. Because of the close proximity of UTS-Barrytown to thriving religious communities of every major tradition, in just four days students could explore six living traditions directly with the people who practice them. The sites visited were: the Temple Bethel Synagogue and Quaker Friends Meeting House in Poughkeepsie; the Masjid Alnoor Mosque, Hindu Samaj Temple, and Mid-Hudson Sikh Cultural Association, Inc., in Wappingers Falls; and the Tsechen Kunchab Ling Buddhist Temple in Walden New York.
Religious leaders at each of the sites welcomed the class from UTS with warm hospitality, and many of them learned from us as we learned from them. Dick Hathaway, from the Quaker Friends Meeting House, commented, “I was very impressed with your group. A big "wow" for them. It was evident that we have much to share in the Spirit.”
In their own Words…
“The course provided a great opportunity to be with nature, [study as] one family, and experience religions that are all seeking for God and for heaven”.- Father Joseph Saghbini, Lebanon
“This class is quite important and very stimulating. I would like to do something like this when I go back to Thailand. I would like to recommend other people to attend this class. It is quite important. We wish this course can be continued”.
- Napong Nophaket, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand
“This class is very challenging; crucial and ambitious. Religion has made problems in human history [so] this interfaith program is very crucial for peacebuilding”.- Rev. Eiji Tokuno, Universal Peace Federation, Africa
“This was an oasis of resources for the field. Many people in the field could use this kind of training. We are always faced with practical situations. This program provided practical education--not just theory. Incredibly valuable for me and I can do a lot with it”.- Adama Doumbia, Universal Peace Federation, Africa
“The relationships that we have created are the most important result. I have a Muslim Sheik from Lebanon who is my friend and a Catholic Priest from Jordan who is my friend. UTS is creating this environment, which is invaluable for interfaith”.
- Jana Robicheau, Yangsi Kalu Rinpoche Meditation Center, Vermont
“The atmosphere at UTS physically, religiously and spiritually is to be highly commended. Fellowship and friendliness were the order of the day. The course was set up in such a way that it was conducive to learning. The lectures were complemented by trips outside. We actually witnessed what we read about. The worship experiences were tremendous. The lectures empowered us to go to our respective places with the knowledge of what to do, how to do it, and with whom we should work.
- Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa, United Methodist Church, Zimbabwe