Vocation and Wisdom in a Time of Conflict and Crisis\

Dr. Rita D. Sherma

Acknowledgement of Graduates & the Challenges Ahead:

Congratulations to all our graduates, MA and PhD, from 2020, 2021, and 2022! You have not only received advanced degrees with all the sacrifice and effort that entails, but you have accomplished this in the midst of the most harrowing few years in most of our memories. Your work, therefore, has been forged in the fire of absence and adversity. Absence of certainty and clarity about the world we are about to enter. Felicitations to our doctoral students, as you receive your PhD, the highest degree conferred by the academy, and enter into new relationships with your teachers, mentors, and Advisors. We now welcome you as our newest colleagues.

The GTU and its Interreligious Interdisciplinary Culture:

The GTU is, today, a complex interreligious and interdisciplinary consortium. The GTU’s ecumenism is the foundation for our interreligiosity. Many, outside the GTU, do not understand the meaning or significance of this two-fold orientation. Rev. Dr. Riess Potterveld, former President of GTU, pointed the way to an interreligious orientation for GTU, and he welcomed the Center for Dharma Studies in 2015. But the GTU has, in fact, been interreligious for many decades. The Center for Jewish Studies was founded in 1968; in 1985, the Institute for Buddhist Studies became an affiliate of the GTU and joined as a Member School in 2021; the Center for Islamic Studies was established as early as 2007. GTU’s current President, Uriah Kim, has enriched and expanded this vision by welcoming new Affiliates such as the Wilmette Institute for Bahai’i Studies, and by supporting interreligious interdisciplinary initiatives that evince the immediacy of engagement with global phenomena, led by projects such as the new GTUx.

Is there any value in learning together? First, we need to understand that a diversity of religious research brings into our greater discourse the richness of a many-hued tapestry of cultures, languages, contemplative, artistic, musical, literary, and other resources. Methodology itself becomes multidisciplinary. This provides students with a wide-angle lens with which to view, analyze, and approach solutions. And secondly: Well, if we recognize that the challenges we face as a planetary community are unparalleled in scope and range, then we cannot but realize that our joint commitment—in faithful witness to our sacred traditions, but also in collaborative partnership with each other—will be indispensable for mitigation and resolution of the tumultuous times we now face.

The Present Moment and its Trajectory:

Before that fateful lockdown in March of 2020, we had already experienced days that turned the noon sky over the Bay into an alien arc of liquid amber; vast conflagrations charred the West, and smoke turned a walk in the park into a destiny with illness—but our students still persevered! We then faced a global pandemic, and you lost the vibrancy of daily connections with your teachers, peers, and mentors—and still you persevered! As we wrestled with the latest permutations of a long pandemic, many of you lost housing, some of you moved out of state—and you continued to persevere! And, thus, today, we are celebrating you with pride and respect—our remarkable graduates from 2020 to 2022!

You are Equipped:

At present, we are in the midst of a great war, one that brings back memories of past horrors, that threatens global economies and ecologies. The challenges we encounter today are unlike those of the past because survival of life on Earth itself is in peril from multiple sources. It will fall upon your cohort and generation to lift up humanity, inspire its latent creativity, and elicit its deepest dedication to become what every one of our diverse traditions promises us—that is, to be greater in wisdom, stronger in justice, resilient in spirit, than we ever thought possible. But you are equipped. You are equipped with faith, hope, love, and justice that flow through the ancient religions—which continue to be living rivers of empowerment and enlightenment in this world even though some would deny this. We have equipped you with the critical lenses to see the truth, the constructive tools to enact change, the contextual mastery to bring about the greater good. And you have proven your mettle, with intellectual and moral strength created in the crucible of catastrophic change. Do not ever forget who you are. No matter where you go, no matter what you do, you are already leaders of the mind and spirit. Let not your heart forget that you are equipped!