2009-2010 Convocation: Spirituality & Justice

Digital archives of convocation speakers are available through the Olin Library.

About the 2009-2010 Theme

As “The Pluralism Project” at Harvard Divinity School has demonstrated, the religious and spiritual landscape of America is changing. With the arrival of new immigrants, the old-line faith traditions of Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism are making way for many new voices. Muslims, Buddhists, Sikhs and Hindus are now worshiping in mosques and temples across the country. Moreover, religious communities are facing the emergence of a new American generation who often claims that its members are “spiritual, not religious.” Add to this mix the presence of the “new atheists,” who reject all belief in God as inconsistent with the rational age, as well as the Pentecostals and Evangelicals, and one has the recipe for profound diversity.

At the same time that these spiritual forces are restructuring religious life in America, the world is experiencing major challenges. Global poverty, war, ethnic conflict and planetary environmental problems are making their presence felt in ways that demand a response. Often our spiritual identities, representing core beliefs and practices, shape our answers and actions.

Is there a way to live together in a time of spiritual and religious diversity? Is there a pattern we can follow to allow for mutual respect and dialogue? This convocation series thinks that there is.

Through honest sharing of our traditions, respectful conversations about our hopes and dreams, and a willingness to see one another as part of the solution and not just sources of threat, spiritualities can point us toward a just and sustainable global community.

In this series, the Drury community is introduced to representatives from diverse spiritual traditions. Issues of morality and social justice are explored, questions of ultimate meaning are discussed, and a vision of peaceful co-existence is lifted up.

The 2009-10 academic year marks the centennial celebration for the Drury School of Religion. This event is a year-long celebration of Drury’s own heritage as a church-related university grounded in a tradition that honors the connection between spirituality and intellectual pursuit and values interfaith dialogue. May this gathering of speakers and performers help you find a richer sense of your own commitments and a greater respect for the commitments of others.

Blessings be with you.

Peter Browning
Convocation Director 2009-2010

Ryan Owen

Freshmen Orientation: Ryan Owen '02
Inseparable Realities: Spirituality and Justice in the 21st Century

August 23, 2009

Move outside yourself to help others in need. Ryan Owen, director of development and communications for the Rainbow Network, did just that. His professional commitment to economic development in poorer countries led him to work for Rainbow Network. This Christian ministry enabled Owen to believe that through interdenominational cooperation, the poorest among us can be helped.

Rainbow Network focuses on five areas to assist those in need: nutrition, healthcare, education, housing and micro-loans. Volunteers work through self-help programs on location to create sustainable change in Nicaraguan communities.

Jim Lucas

Jim Lucas
Keeper of the Dream: Recalling the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

September 10, 2009

Jim Lucas is a noted public speaker and actor who uses his talents to embody the soul and spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In this presentation, he will give a dramatic performance of selected speeches and their backstories by King.

Lucas has appeared in the movie National Treasure and its sequel, as well as the play The Meeting, a powerful drama about the lives, philosophies and times of Dr. King and Malcolm X. Lucas’ resemblance to and interpretation of Dr. King has been called remarkable, awe-inspiring, uncanny and soulful.

Drs. Rabindra and Protima Roy

Drs. Rabindra and Protima Roy
Celebration of Hem Sheela School

Thursday, September 24

Faith is more than a belief in a higher power. More than a decade ago, Drs. Rabindra and Protima Roy took a leap of faith. After years of saving, the Roys used their own funds to open the Hem Sheela Model School in Durgapur, India. Located on 23 acres of land, the school was built to disseminate knowledge and personalized attention to each student.

Unlike other schools in India, Hem Sheela students come from all walks of life; all are accepted if they meet admissions requirements. The Roys’ faith has allowed Indian children the opportunity to meet their educational potential, where they are taught by highly qualified teachers in an atmosphere dedicated to all students.

Ed Stewart

Ed Stewart
The Power of PAWS

October 1, 2009

The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) captive wildlife sanctuary offers abandoned, abused or retired performing animals and victims of the exotic animal trade a place to live in peace and dignity. Founded in 1984 by former Hollywood animal trainer and author Pat Derby and her partner, Ed Stewart, PAWS maintains three sanctuaries for captive wildlife.

Derby worked as a trainer on the set of many popular films and 1970s television shows, including “Flipper,” “Gunsmoke,” “Lassie” and “Gentle Ben.”

In the process of developing her own training methods based on trust and love, she discovered a profession rampant with neglect and abuse. She and Stewart have pioneered a method of elephant handling that uses no bull hooks, weapons or aversive training techniques.

Sister Helen Prejean

Sister Helen Prejean
Dead Man Walking: The Journey Continues

October 15, 2009

Sister Helen Prejean began her prison ministry in 1981 when she dedicated her life to the poor of New Orleans. While living in the St. Thomas housing project, she became pen pals with Patrick Sonnier, the convicted killer of two teenagers. Sonnier was sentenced to die in the electric chair of Louisiana’s Angola State Prison.

Upon Sonnier’s request, Sister Helen repeatedly visited him as his spiritual adviser. In doing so, her eyes were opened to the Louisiana execution process.

She turned her experiences into Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States, which was nominated for a 1993 Pulitzer Prize. The book was developed into the 1996 film Dead Man Walking.

Fifteen years after beginning her crusade, the Roman Catholic sister has witnessed five executions in Louisiana and today educates the public about the death penalty by lecturing, organizing and writing. She continues to counsel not only inmates on death row but also the families of murder victims.

Her second book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions, tells the story of Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O’Dell. Sister Helen details evidence for readers, including information the juries never heard either due to the incompetence of the defense lawyers or the rigid formalities of court procedure. She examines how flaws inextricably entwined in the death penalty system inevitably lead to innocent people being executed and thus render the system unworkable.

Shane Claiborne

Shane Claiborne
The Simple Way

October 18, 2009

Shane Claiborne’s path with Christ has taken a few nontraditional twists: The graduate of Eastern University interned at Willow Creek Community Church.

From there, he worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta for ten weeks. Claiborne has modeled his ministry after Mother Teresa’s work with the poor. He has also done peace work with an Iraq Peace Team, where he took daily trips to sites where there had been bombings, visited hospitals and families and attended worship services.

Claiborne’s stateside focus has been as a part of the Potter Street Community, a Christian monastic community that follows the precepts of The Simple Way. He is the author of The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical among other works.


Documentary by filmmaker Patrick Mureithi

November 5, 2009

“ICYIZERE: hope” is a documentary about a gathering of ten survivors and ten perpetrators of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. Through a workshop that addresses Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and conducts group exercises to build trust, the participants realize:

  1. They are more similar than different;
  2. They are all, victim and aggressor, suffering from trauma; and
  3. The most effective way to overcome their trauma is by making an effort to forgive each other and work toward rebuilding trust within their communities.

It is a documentary about the power of, and the need for, forgiveness.

The first version of the film was shared with audiences at the 2008 Rwanda Film Festival, on Rwanda National Television and at the 2,500-inmate Gisenyi Central Prison. The final version was accepted for screening at the 2009 Rwanda Film Festival and will again be shared on Rwanda National Television.

Filmmaker Patrick Mureithi is a Kenyan who lives in Springfield, Mo. A self-proclaimed “African-Ozarkian,” his passion is to produce films that inspire hope and encourage dialogue.

Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie
Without Reservations: An Urban Indian’s Comic, Poetic and Highly Irreverent Look at the World

November 12, 2009

Sherman Alexie is an author, comedian, poet and artist who isn’t afraid to speak his mind, even if it means going toe-to-toe with Steven Colbert on The Colbert Report. A Spokane/Coeur d’Alene Indian, he grew up on the reservation in Wellpinit, Wash., about 50 miles northwest of Spokane, Wash. Alexie’s 2007 novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, reflects a bit of his own experience of attending public high school off the reservation.

Alexie achieved early success shortly after graduating from Washington State University. He received the Washington State Arts Commission Poetry Fellowship in 1991 and the National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship in 1992.

His first collection of short stories, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, was published by Atlantic Monthly Press in 1993. The story This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona, became the basis for the screenplay of Smoke Signals, an independent film that won two Sundance Film Festival awards in 1998.

In April 2009, Hanging Loose Press released his first full collection of poems in nine years, Face. His newest book, War Dances, is a hilarious collection of stories, which is being released this October 2009. His many honors include a 2008 Stranger Genius Award in Literature, a 2007 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, a 2007 Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, a 2005 Pushcart Prize and a 2001 PEN/Malamud Award from PEN/Faulkner Foundation.

Dr. Teresa Hornsby

Dr. Teresa Hornsby
Sex and the Bible: Who Condemns You?

November 19, 2009

Jesus says these words to the woman caught in adultery in John 8:10. Often, we read the Bible as a series of condemnations of sexuality. Yet, from where do the condemnations come? And how might we understand biblical ideals about sexuality in our own lives?

This Bible study will walk through central passages upon which folks have built condemnations and justifications. Bring your Bibles!

Dr. Robert John Russell

Dr. Robert John Russell
Big Bang Cosmology and Evolutionary Biology: Foes or Friends of Faith?

January 28, 2010

For more than 25 years, Dr. Robert John Russell has been engaged in research and teaching focused on the creative mutual interaction between theology and the natural sciences.

Russell is the founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) in Berkeley, Calif., and the Ian G. Barbour Professor of Theology and Science in Residence at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU).

The Center’s mission is to move us beyond conflict between science and religion by promoting a responsible dialogue in which both sides respect and learn from each other. CTNS sponsors research, teaching and public service programs. Topics include physics, cosmology, evolutionary biology, genetics and the neurosciences in relation to Christian theology, ethics and spirituality.

Dr. Inge Auerbacher

Dr. Inge Auerbacher
Beyond the Yellow Star

February 4, 2010

Dr. Inge Auerbacher was the last Jewish child born in Kippenheim, a village in Germany located near the Black Forest and close to the borders of France and Switzerland. Both of her parents came from observant Jewish families who had lived for many generations in Germany. Inge’s father was a soldier in the German Army during World War I; he was awarded the Iron Cross for his service.

Christians and Jews lived peacefully together until the Kristallnacht riots against the Jews in Germany and Austria on Nov. 9-10, 1938. Her family was dispersed among several concentration camps.

Auerbacher is among the one percent who survived the holding center at Terezin. She and her parents moved to America in 1946. Her award-winning books—I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust; Beyond the Yellow Star to America; and Running Against the Wind—are read in schools worldwide

Dr. William Schulz

Dr. William Schulz
The Obama Administration’s Human Rights Record after One Year

February 11, 2010

Recently retired as the executive director of Amnesty International USA, Dr. William Schulz has been in hot spots across the world the past 30 years.

His sense of justice and service to those in need has led him to participate in Amnesty missions in Darfur, Sudan, Liberia and Northern Ireland. Schulz has traveled extensively, including a 2004 trip to Cuba under the sponsorship of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. He discusses his dedication to emancipating millions from tyranny and terror.

His experiences are included in his book, Our Own Best Interests: How Defending Human Rights Benefits Us All, in which he proposes that the American public fully support and embrace human rights worldwide and at home.

Terri Houston

Terri Houston
Moving Your Constipated Vision

February 25, 2010

Terri Houston is a preeminent teacher and trainer of students, college administrators and business professionals. Her over 20 years of progressive higher education experience coupled with her enthusiastic leadership style have helped countless colleges, universities, businesses and community groups build strong inclusive organizations. She has enabled thousands in finding their purpose and establishing their visions.

Houston currently serves as Director for Recruitment and Multicultural Programs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She wholeheartedly believes that no power is greater than the higher power within. Her persuasive, energetic and humorous message of visionary leadership will entertain as well as educate.

Sumi Loundon Kim

Sumi Loundon Kim
Blue Jean Buddha

March 4, 2010

Sumi Loundon Kim traces the role of Buddhism in four generations of her family as it reflects the broader history of Buddhism in America. Born and raised in a Zen community, Sumi shares her own path as a young Buddhist, from learning meditation as a kid to studying Buddhism at Harvard to marrying a Korean Zen monk.

She gives attention to how one’s relationship to religion and spiritual practice can change during the college years. Sumi has published two anthologies about the lives of young Buddhists in the West: Blue Jean Buddha and The Buddha’s Apprentices.

Joe White

Joe White
The Cross Builder

March 11, 2010

Joe White believes in the power of family, purity and Kamps. His family’s dedication to Kanakuk Kamps has touched countless lives for eternity. White is committed to building up a new generation of Christian leaders who are equipped to understand, defend, share and stand strong in their faith.

He is President of Kanakuk Ministries and founder of Kids Across America, Men At The Cross, and Cross International. White graduated from Southern Methodist University, has authored 22 books, and has been awarded two honorary doctoral degrees.

“The Cross Builder ” drama has been performed for nearly 200,000 students on more than 75 university campuses across the country.

Dr. Hugh Halverstadt

Dr. Hugh Halverstadt
Working through Differences, When Possible

March 18, 2010

Dr. Hugh Halverstadt is a recently retired seminary professor from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and a Presbyterian minister who is an expert on the topic of conflict management.

The Mind of the South by W. J. Cash describes a way of understanding deeply rooted political/economic/personal differences in the American Civil War that he will use to understand alternative ways we have for addressing our deeply held personal and social differences in America today.

Halverstadt’s book, Managing Church Conflict, first published in 1991, is a classic volume on how to defuse conflict with those who act as antagonists within the greater church community.

Tissa Hami

Tissa Hami
A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Mosque: Lessons from the Comedy Club Circuit

April 8, 2010

Tissa Hami is one of the world's few female Muslim stand-up comics. Her fresh perspective on life as an Iranian-American woman leaves audiences in shock and awe.

From Islamic fundamentalists to white liberals, no one is safe from her sharp wit. Hami hopes her comedy will help break down stereotypes about Muslim women and foster understanding between Iranians and Americans.

She grew up in a traditional Iranian family in a predominantly white suburb of Boston and holds bachelor's and master's degrees in international affairs from Ivy League universities. Her parents are thrilled that she is using her expensive education to pursue a career in comedy.

Hami warns: People who disapprove of her act will be taken hostage.

Zebedee R. Jones and the Rust College A Cappella Choir

Zebedee R. Jones and the Rust College A Cappella Choir
A Capella Choir Performance

April 14, 2010

This rockin’ a capella choir from Rust College out of Holly Springs, Miss., will bring you out of your seats with a concert of classical and African-American music.

Eric Dannenmaier

Eric Dannenmaier
Environmental Change and the Emerging Global Citizen

April 22, 2010

Eric Dannenmaier '81, now a professor of law at Indiana University in Indianapolis, has held multiple positions as a legal adviser on environmental and natural resources law.

As an adviser to governments and international organizations in the reform of environment and natural resource laws, Dannenmaier has authored studies and policy papers on topics including the implementation of climate change commitments, water policy and decentralization, environmental security, international trade and the environment, human rights, and environmental democracy.

His principal research is focused on citizen access to decision-making processes under both national and international law with an emphasis on decisions affecting international development and the environment.

Dudley Murphy and Friends

Dudley Murphy and Friends
Gospel Music in the Ozarks

April 29, 2010

Long-time Drury art professor and director of the visual communication program, Dudley Murphy is a nationally recognized acoustic guitarist and musician. This musical celebration of bluegrass spirituals honors the Ozark pioneers who brought fiddles, guitars, harmonicas and banjos to this region in the early 1800s. Their faithful music replenished the spirits of a people struggling to survive and continues to inspire today. This special concert will offer a joy-filled conclusion to our convocation year.

Professor Murphy will be joined by friends — David and Linda Wilson, Deanie Murphy, Professor Tom Parker, Mark Crabtree, Irl Hees and Drury alumnus Steve Williams’ Church Gospel Choir.