Distinguished theologian Paul F Knitter visited Colonial Congregational Church in Prairie Village 2018 April 20 and spoke on "Attitudes toward the Religious Other: The Christian Landscape," ways Christians can approach thinking about those of other faiths.
Vern had a chance to speak briefly with him before his presentation and mentioned that his 2002 book, Introducing Theologies of Religion, is one of the sources for Vern's class, "Ministry in a Pluralistic World," at Central Seminary.
Vern also commented during the forum after the lecture. One point of discussion was the difficulty of one person representing an entire faith tradition with its many historical and contemporary expressions. Vern noted that the Kansas City Interfaith Council was organized in 1989 not with representatives of 13 faiths, but with 13 people from different faith backgrounds, thus avoiding this easy trap. Even Christians forget that their faith today might be very different from another Christian's faith across the street (even within Protestantism, not to mention Catholicism or Orthodoxy) or in other parts of the world; and historical development is seldom recognized -- a Southern Baptist today may be very different from one 50 years ago.
Thanks to Jen Greene for these photos.2018 April 30, Stephen Prothero and Vern discuss the merits of Prothero's 2010 book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the Worldand Why Their Differences Matter, which Vern is using as one of several texts at Central Seminary. Another member of the audience at the annual Religious Studies lecture at KU happened to have a copy of the 2011 column Vern had written about the book and showed it to them. Prothero signed Vern's copy of his new book, Why Liberals Win (Even When They Lose Elections). Prothero's lecture reviewed his earlier and continuing concern about American religious illiteracy, about which he wrote in his 2007 Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't.
Prothero's website is http://stephenprothero.com/.
I've not met Robert Wuthnow, but he did call me on the phone when he was working on one of his books. This 1988 article on Civil Religion remains important: Divided We Fall: Americas Two Civil Religions .
I first met Huston Smith in 1969 or 1970 at the
Div School at the University of Chicago where he had studied and had returned
to report on a second trip to Tibet. We kept running into each other at
various meetings and became friends. I have never met anyone who more appropriately
can be termed a "gentleman." Born in China, in this 2005 photo at the Kansas
City Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, he looks very like a Taoist immortal!
Author of the all-time best-selling The World's Religions, he consented
to being interviewed for my Kansas City Star columns repeatedly. I cherish
taking him to his parents' graves in Marshall, MO. I collected some other
photos as a remembrance when he died
in 2016, aged 97.
had retired when I met and studied with him, first at a week-long seminar
in Santa Barbara. Long familiar with his Hero with a Thousand Faces,
I asked him about adpating the three-part sequence he theorizes for the
individual's spiritual journey into a four-part liturgical pattern for
groups. The Kansas City Friends of Jung brought him here several times
after that. In 1988 Campbell became known to a wider audience through the
Bill Moyers PBS "Power of Myth" six-hour poorly edited and sometimes inaccurate
interview series. He was trained in literature, and his study of religion
was without much scholarly expertise, which led him to flawed assumptions.
In my view, Campbell was a convincing story-teller, a bit if the charlatan,
elitist, proto-fascist, crypo-anti-Semite, a great spiritual entertainer.
Perhaps there is no better indication of his self-absorption and scorn
for social structures (from which he himself benefited) than his facile
advice, "follow your bliss." Still, I learned much from him and value the
way he was able to show a large audience hungry for spiritual fare how
myths are powerful paths to the sacred in our secularistic age.
Robert Muller was the United Nations Assistant Secretary-General under three Secretaries-General and became Chancellor of the University for Peace.
Pulitzer-prize poetry winner Karl Shapiro taught writing poetry at the University of Nebraska.
His was a memorably free-wheeling graduate seminar which ironically helped me understand form. He supported the wildest literary experiments from the students in such a way as to demonstrate that poetry generates an extraordinary range of reactions and interpretations. And personally, when I got into a bit of a jam as a graduate teaching assistant, he helped get things resolved the right way.
I think I also learned some things from him about how to teach.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross (we called her "Dr Ross") was one of my clinical-pastoral education internship supervisors at the University of Chicago hospitals when I was studying for my doctorate. She was known as the "death lady" because of her ground-breaking study of dying patients. When she first began, she asked all the MDs for the names of their dying patients, and they all said they had no patients dying. Those were the days of deep denial. As her study progressed, she became well-known. When I was her student, Life magazine came to feature her work (before her 1969 book On Death & Dying was published), and she handled that attention with minimal fuss as they observed. It was just another routine class -- shocking, heart-breaking, profoundly disturbing. She would interview the dying patient on one side of a half-silvered mirror (always with permission) while we students were on the other side. When the interview was over, she would come to our side. Her first question always was, "What was your gut reaction?" She taught us that we could not help anyone else unless we were aware of, and could manage, how we felt about the situation.
She was not only brilliant but also a bit crazy, and I cannot forget a time just the two of us were in the chaplain's office. She went off on her views of the afterlife which she kept hidden from the public for some time until her reputation as a thanatologist was established. I was really uncomfortable. It felt like an intellectual assault and I was the victim. How could I argue with Dr Ross? but silence felt like I was conveying agreement.
Her "five stages" -- denial, anger, bargaining,
depression, and acceptance -- have pretty well been disputed, but she moved
our culture forward dramatically in dealing with the realities of dying
and death. She was, in all, a great teacher.
My first year of graduate work was at the University of Nebraska where I had completed my BA. There I had the great good fortune to study with Garma Chen-Chi Chang, a Buddhist scholar who fled mainland China and was a visiting professor of religious studies from Penn State where he became Emeritus Professor. One day he told the seminar that our assignment for the next session was a 20-page paper on shunya, the Buddhist "void" or "emptiness." I was a bit of a smart-ass in those days, and (before the personal computer) had a ream of typing paper with me. Under the seminar table I counted out 20 blank sheets and then announced: "Professor, I have my paper ready now," and handed him 20 empty pages. He took out his grading pencil, looked at the "paper," and, making a beautiful Buddhist circle on the top sheet, said, "Ah, very good, Mr Barnet; and I have your grade ready now," as he handed me the zero, answering my joke with what I hoped was his joke.
The first term, as I remember, we used Huston Smith's The Religions of Man (later The World's Religions) supplemented with Chang's rigorous comments, and the second term we focused on the varieties of Hinduism and particularly Buddhism. I cherish my notes, especially his own translation of portions of the Vimalakirti Sutra (now available in several English translations) which is one of my most prized of all the world's scriptures, along with the Heart Sutra and the utmost prize of the Hwa Yen Sutra, about which Chang later wrote in his The Buddhist Teaching of Totality. I loved learning about Fa Tsang (Fazang), the Golden Lion, and the room of mirrors for the Empress Wu Zhao (Wu Zetian). Perhaps best known among his other books are The Practice of Zen and The Hundred Thousand Songs of Milarepa.
I happened to visit his home one time and was amazed
at how spare -- empty -- his space was. Somehow to me that was a demonstration
of the void, and a few years later I was writing my doctoral dissertation
on Voidism: A Theology for the Practice of the Liberal Ministry.