Each year the Center is privileged to host a most interesting community of students and visiting scholars, and 2016-17 is no exception: over 20 people of various backgrounds, faith traditions, and academic interests.
In keeping with one of the oldest traditions of the Center, the community gathers on Wednesday evenings, for what in recent years (thanks to my predecessor Donald K. Swearer) we call the "World Religions Café." Each week, a member of the community presents something of her or his work in progress, or reflections on a theme of current interest. Each presentation goes for about 30 minutes, and the rest of the time is taken up in Q & A and a conversation reflecting the various interests of those present.
As I always do, I signed up for the first café, last Wednesday evening (September 7). Wishing to help orient the still young community at the Center, I reflected on my own experience of religious life–in my nearly 50 years as Jesuit–under the categories of community, work, and personal identity. While it is not possible to separate these out, each raises a distinct challenge: How do we live together, and be good neighbors to people in some ways like us, but often enough rather different too? The Center community is a kind of microcosm, for learning to pay attention to one another in ways that can help us in the much larger web of our daily lives. How do we hold together integrally all the many things we juggle in our daily lives, on campus, and in outside activities to which we devote ourselves? We can all too easily be too-busy, scattered and frazzled, worn down or hyped-up, unless we find a way to blend our work into the rhythms of our daily lives. And deep down, who are we, how do we ground in our personal identities and life stories our lives together and the work we do? Or, to use familiar language, beneath it all, what is my vocation, what is my mission, such as makes the busy-ness of life, alone and communities, possible? I am sure that my suggestions and partial answers only opened the door to many more ways in which we will get at these themes in the months to come.
As last year, we will in a limited way share the wealth, by posting here, in the "World Religions Café" corner of the homepage, each presenter's summary of what she or he had to say. By the time the year is over, you will have had a chance to hear from almost everyone at the Center. Stay tuned then, each week!
—by Francis X. Clooney, S.J., director of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Parkman Professor of Divinity, Professor of Comparative Theology