Nazareth College’s first “Mini Chautauqua” opens a new conversation on an old theme: nurturing planet Earth


Optimistic about saving A Planet in Peril; Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, myself, Maggie Matthews, Hickey Center Student Co-Ordinator

Yesterday I was happy to attend Nazareth College’s “Mini-Chautauqua in Rochester,” invited by Executive Director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue Dr. Muhammad Shafiq who you met in Parliament of World’s Religions.  (See Program at end.)

IMG_0936Designed as the first of a series of Mini-Chautauquas to be held around the nation, the conference marked a new partnership between the Chautauqua Institute and the  Hickey Center. Titled “On a Planet in Peril and Our Moral Responsibility,” the conference highlighted nine different speakers all who taught us how we can transform the environment for a better world.


Dr. Etin Anwar, Hobart and William Smith College, and Rabbi Debbie Till, Jewish Federation of Greater Rochester (mentioned by George Payne below). NOTE: They are sitting next to a totem pole outside the Wellness Center. Check back shortly as for a post on the relationship between the totem pole and Nazareth’s Creative Arts Therapy program. And a mystery solved! (see the missing bird’s head)

The fundamental feature of the conference was to bring together members from various faith communities to discuss how traditional practices provide a spiritual basis reminding us why we are responsible for nurturing the planet. And, as importantly, how that very nurturing can feed our own souls.

As Dr. Shafiq was clear to emphasize, while this is the first Mini-Chautauqua, the conference is only the beginning of the dialogue. Someday perhaps a “Major Chautauqua at Nazareth College.”


George Payne

I ran into my friend George Payne, founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International, who you met in Broken Spear Vision. George, who has devoted his passion to environmental activism and non-violence offered his insights:

A conference like the “Mini-Chautauqua in Rochester” is so dynamic because it combines the knowledge of the natural sciences with the wisdom traditions of Eastern and Western religion. This rare blend of head and heart not only enabled participants to better understand the threat of climate change, it also helped them conceive of ways to respond to this challenge with love, compassion and resilience. As Rabbi Debbie Till shared in her reflection on the Talmud, “it is not our job to complete the task but neither are we free to desist from it.”
All of the distinguished speakers expressed the same moral imperative. We need to cure our addiction to consumerism, speciesism, and ecological warfare; and we need to cultivate a profound humility before whatever we call the divine. For in the end, what we are trying to sustain is ourselves.


Toby Young [Photo by: McLain Erhard]

Also at the Chautauqua was student McLain Erhard, media marketer at the Hickey Center. He interviewed first-year Nazareth student Toby Young. Toby was intrigued by the scientific aspect – especially the detailed presentation – by the opening speaker, Dr. Ermin Sinanovic, on the 6 atmospheric events that have shaped the Earth’s geological history. Now taking Dr. Shafiq’s “Exploring Religion” class, Toby wants to explore the relationships between the solutions of scientists and the religious habits of being.