As part of my study leave I spent two weeks in the US. I visited university staff and chaplains in and around Boston – at MIT, Harvard, Boston University, Brandeis and Wellesley. I then went to the Gobal Chaplains Conference at Yale, New Haven. There were 450 chaplains attending. They were mainly from Europe, North America, and Australasia. But I met chaplains from India and Uganda as well.
The conference theme was spiritual leadership in a multi-faith world. I don’t use the idea of ‘spiritual leadership’ myself but it seemed a key self-understanding for American chaplains. What was clear is that working in multi-faith and multi-religious environments is now the norm in higher education in the western world. My impression, from conversations with people about the workshops that they had attended, was that the US institutions invest in religious welfare way above that seen in the UK. For example, many US student services have departments of ‘Religious and Spiritual Life’ that sit along side counselling, accommodation and disability services. However, when it came to the detailed knowledge about building good relationships over time between people of different faiths then the UK had a great depth of experience.
So, a great many impressions and ideas about how religious people can relate to those with different world views to thier own. Yet there was not much about the next frontier – how to foster better mutual appreciation between people of religious world views and people with philosophical world views.