The Heinz Lecture Series at Westminster College

Religion and the Religions
(made possible by an endowment from the Vira I. Heinz Endowment)

Why Study Religion?

Past Events:
Tibetan Buddhist Monks of the Gaden Shartse Monastery

|| Mark Oppenheimer || Ruth Mas ||
||Justin Barrett || Donald Kraybill
|| Faith Adiele || Huang Xiang || Robert Abernethy ||
|| Carlo Hawkwalker || Maureen Korp || Elaine Pagels ||
|| The Monks of Gaden Lhopa Monastery || The Latif Bolat Ensemble ||

Upcoming Events:
The North American Undergraduate Conference on Religion and Philosophy

Please click or scroll down for images and more information.

This series of events focuses on the nature and study of religion in a world possessed of a plurality of religious traditions. Our intention is to host both cultural representatives of the world’s religious traditions and the academic and theological scholars who study them.

If you are interested in having your name on an e-mailing list so that you will be automatically informed of all such events, please send your e-mail address to

December 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, 2003: The Monks of Gaden Lhopa Monastery.

More images below.

The first event in this bi-annual series of lectures was a vist of The Monks of the Gaden Lhopa Monastery. The Gaden Lhopa monastery is currently located in the Tibetan colony in exile in India in Mundgod in the state of Karnataka. These Monks are Tibetan Monks of the Gelugpa denomination of Tibetan Buddhism led by Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

The Monks visited Westminster College from Monday 1st to Wednesday 3rd of December, 2003. While here the Monks constructed a sand mandala representing the realm of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Chenrezig. This mandala is not only a beautiful work of art but also an act of religious devotion. It was constructed over approximately 10 hours per day for three days, and then was ceremonially dispersed on Wednesday evening.

On Monday evening the Monks gave an introductory talk on Buddhism, and on Tuesday evening a talk on the Buddhist understanding of mind (both @ 6:30 in the Lakeview Witherspoon Room). They featured in a joint Peace Studies coffeehouse/Diversity Symposium talk on Tuesday afternoon (4:30 in the Student Lounge) and in the Faculty Forum on Wednesday lunchtime (11:30 McKelvey Theatre).

This event was such a success that a different group of Monks from the same monastery were invited to the College in April of 2005, and another group in October of 2008. See the information available here.

Here are some images of the Monk's visit and the Chenrezig Mandala as it took shape. The Mandala was then ceremonially destroyed and its component sand distributed into Brittain Lake.
Click on the outlined images to see a higher resolution image.

February 18th and 19th, 2004: The Latif Bolat Ensemble

Latif Bolat plays traditional Turkish Folk Music and devotional Sufi songs which are called Ilahi and Nefes, from the Anatolian peninsula. The lyrics of Ilahis or Nefeses are taken largely from the great 13th century mystical poets Rumi and Yunus Emre.

Turkish Mystic Sufi musician and scholar Latif Bolat visited Westminster College on February 18th and 19th as part of his world concert tour. He presented music, poetry, Sufi stories, and images from Turkey. On Wednesday, 18th, Mr. Bolat taught three classes in music theory at Westminster, and that evening he offered a presentation in the Student Lounge of the McKelvey Center on Turkish Devotional Music and Sufi Mysticism.

On Thursday, 19th, Latif led the music department’s regular seminar and, in the evening, gave a full two-hour concert: “Healing sounds of Ancient Turkey: Turkish Mystic Sufi music, poetry and images.” The program also included Traditional Turkish folk songs as well as ballads composed by Latif Bolat. Throughout the program devotional poetry from 13th Century Sufi poets was recited and images of Turkish people and scenery were projected on a screen.

One of the best-known Turkish musicians in the US, Bolat possesses a vast repertoire, ranging from Sufi devotional songs and Turkish Folk music to classical pieces. His mesmerizing performances draw on ancient texts and employ traditional instrumentation such as the baglama (long necked lute), oud and ney flute. In addition to a full schedule of concert, lecture and workshop engagements at universities and concert halls around the world, he has made many live audio and television appearances and composed soundtrack music for the PBS documentary: Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and George Lucas’s Young Indiana Jones.

September 15th, 2004:

Carlo Hawkwalker addresses a well-attended meeting at the McKelvey Student Center
Carlo Hawkwalker is a traditional native person involved in Native American ceremony. He is a Pipe carrier and Sundancer. He is an Elder for the Western Cherokee nation and has served on the Native American Steering Committee for the prevention of substance abuse. He was the co-facilitator of the Indigenous round table of Russia in St. Petersburg. He is a Peacemaker involved in international issues such as the world peace treaty campaign. He is also a storyteller.
Fenruary 24th, 2005:
Maureen Korp lectures on the history of art and the history of religions at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada. She is also a lecturer in the Faculty of Theology at Saint Paul’s University, Ottawa, and has taught in Romania and the United States in faculties of history, visual arts, and religion. Between 1995-1996, she was a senior lecturer at the University of Bucharest, Romania. Professor Korp’s most applauded book is Sacred Art of the Earth. (Continuum International Publishing Group, 1997)

Professor Korp presented classes on:

On Thursday, February 24th Prof. Korp gave a public lecture on "The Soul's Journey: Constantin Brancusi's Great Vision" in the Mueller Theatre in the McKelvey Student Center.

The Endless Column by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1956) is perhaps the best-known feature of a war memorial complex that the sculptor designed in 1935-1938 for the town of Targu Jiu high in the Carpathian mountains of western Romania. The column has recently been restored. It does not, however, stand alone. The Endless Column is part of an extensive installation which is the embodiment of a mythic tale--the story of the soul's journey after death to the sun to be reborn. It is thus a singularly appropriate topic for a consideration of the relation of art and religion.

September 22nd, 2005:
“Gnosticism, Early Christianity, & the Secret Gospels”
Elaine Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, is one of the country’s leading scholars of religion. Pagels’ impeccable scholarship has won her international respect. While still in her early thirties, she exploded the myth of the early Christian Church as a unified movement. Her research changed the historical landscape of one of the world’s great religions in the process. Pagels gained international acclaim for her best-selling book, The Gnostic Gospels (1979, which demonstrates that the early Christian movement was far more diverse than previously thought. It also indicates how women, prominent in certain early Christian groups, were subsequently excluded from governing positions in its emerging hierarchy.

The Nag Hammadi manuscripts contain not only the gospels of Phillip and Mary Magdalene among others, but chants, poems, myths, pagan text and spiritual instruction, pointing to mystical traditions within the early Christian tradition. As the early church moved toward becoming an orthodox body with a canon, rites and a clergy, the bishops and archbishops denounced these manuscripts and declared them heretical.

Pagels’ latest book, Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (May 2003), focuses on religious claims to possessing the ultimate “truth.” She contends that, as Christianity became increasingly institutionalized, it became more politicized and less pluralistic.

Elaine Pagels earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in classical studies from Stanford University. In 1970 she earned a Ph.D. with distinction from Harvard University. Pagels has taught at Barnard College, Columbia University, and currently is Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University.

Professor Pagels with President Williamson and Professor Rennie, and lecturing in the Orr Auditorium of Westminster College (photographs by Russ Martin) .

April 24th, 2007:
Faith Adiele: A Buddhist Nun in Thailand
Faith Adiele has published numerous works relating her experiences growing up as a Nigerian-Nordic-American in a small town in Washington State. Her works, which focus on the subjects of identity, culture, travel and spirituality, have appeared in numerous magazines, journals, and anthologies. Adiele has received recognition from Best American Essays, UNESCO, Yaddo, MacDowell, Banff Center for the Arts, Sacatar Foundation, PEN New England, The Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation and others.

Adiele has lived in Nigeria and Thailand and traveled throughout Southeast Asia, West Africa, Scandinavia, Western Europe, Mexico and Brazil. She is currently Assistant Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh, where she is at work on a family memoir, Twins: Growing Up Nigerian-Nordic-American.

In April 2004, her travel memoir, Meeting Faith: The Forest Journals of a Black Buddhist Nun, was released to great acclaim by W.W. Norton & Company.

Faith's memoir about becoming Thailand’s first black Buddhist nun received the PEN Beyond Margins Award for Best Memoir of 2005. Educated at Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, she is also the writer/narrator/subject of My Journey Home (PBS), a documentary about growing up with a Nordic-American single mother and then traveling to Nigeria as an adult to find her father and siblings; and is lead editor of the forthcoming international anthology, Coming of Age Around the World (New Press).

Her travel essays and memoirs have been widely published and anthologized and have received numerous awards, including a UNESCO International Artists Bursary, Best American Essays shortlist, and the Millennium Award from Creative Nonfiction. She currently resides in Pittsburgh, where she is Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction at the University of Pittsburgh and at work on Twins: Growing Up Nigerian/Nordic/American, a cultural memoir that will complete the story begun in the documentary film.

Links: See Faith's website
Faith's Photos

May 7th, 2007:
Huang Xiang: Contemporary Chinese Poet

Born in Hunan Province, China, in 1941, Huang Xiang is a dissident Chinese poet who has spent more than 10 years in prison for refusing to submit to the Communist Party propaganda machine, Huang Xiang has found a home for himself, his wife, and his poems in Pennsylvania. "I left China because there was nothing else left for me to do," Huang said. His poetry, like Whitman's, spans a wide range of topics from nature and love to politics.

Huang began writing poems in the 1950s and has been imprisoned repeatedly for his work. In 1978, he founded “Enlightenment,” the first underground writers’ society, and started a literary magazine with the same title. In exile in the United States since 1997, he is currently resident poet in Pittsburgh under the Cities of Asylum program for writers.

According to Susan Hutton's "Writing on the Wall," Scholars and poets around the world consider Huang Xiang the Walt Whitman of China. No one in China reads him. “I do not exist there,” he said. “The people of my generation do not know my work. Most of them don’t even know my name.”

Susan Hutton also explains that the ancient Chinese poets wrote on walls and in caves, and carved their words in stone. “I want to preserve and expand this Chinese tradition,” says Huang Xiang, referring to the poems painted on his house, “where the poem is on the street, on the stones, in the gardens. I want to beautify every corner.”

From “Dirge for a Young Century: A Lament for the Terrorist Attack on New York 's Twin Towers.”
Oh God, Oh God I have faith in you, I call you to appear
Be with me Be with these silent votive candles
All things on Earth that once have died must forge their way
back through the bloody muck
Under the clear sky Upon the Earth To go on living Forever and forever
SEPTEMBER 20, 2001
In New Jersey sunroom
Translated by: ANDREW G. EMERSON.

See also:

|| Nine poems by Huang Xiang. || Huang Xiang at the Mattress factory in Pittsburgh ||
|| Radio Free Asia || Susan Hutton, Writing on the Wall ||


Robert Abernethy, for ten years the host of the PBS weekly program, “Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly,” has considerable professional expertise in the area of talking about religion. He spoke at the North American Undergraduate Conference on Religion and Philosophy (NAUCORP, 2008) at Westminster on “Talking about Religion” on Friday, March 7, 2008 at 7 p.m. in the Witherspoon Lakeview Room of the McKelvey Campus Center. Dr. Abernethy holds honorary doctorates from several colleges, including Westminster.
Dr. Justin Barrett, senior researcher at Oxford University’s Centre for Anthropology and Mind, also presented at NAUCORP. His paper was on “Cognitive Science of Religion: What is it and why does it matter?” on Saturday, March 8, 2008 at 10:45 a.m., also in the Witherspoon Lakeview Room. Dr. Barrett is former associate director of the International Culture and Cognition Consortium and a founding editor of the Journal of Cognition and Culture. He is the author of Why Would Anyone Believe in God? and was the International Coordinator of Experimental Research Programmes for the Institute of Cognition and Culture at the Queen’s University, Belfast.
Dr. Donald Kraybill is Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies and Senior Fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College. Dr. Kraybill spoke on "The Riddles of Amish Culture" on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2009, at 7:30 pm in the Westminster Chapel. A Book signing followed his talk.

This event was sponsored by Westminster's Department of Political Science and Sociology, the First Year Program, the Peace Studies program, the Office of Diversity Services and the Chapel Office as well as the Heinz Lecture Series.

Dr. Kraybill has written over 20 books and numerous scholarly articles on the Amish and other Anabaptist communities, his most recent being Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy on how the Amish practiced forgiveness after the Nickel Mines school shootings. His many years of study and expertise make him one of the foremost media spokesmen for news affecting Amish communities.

“Scientologists and Mormons? How Two Religions Sought Legitimacy”

Mark Oppenheimer is a leading writer and speaker about contemporary religion. A frequent contributor to Slate, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times Magazine, Oppenheimer is the regular religion columnist for The New York Times and is also the author of two studies of religion and popular culture. The first, Knocking on Heaven's Door: American Religion in the Age of Counterculture, describes how the tumult of the 1960s affected Protestants, Catholics, and Jews in America. The second, Thirteen and a Day: The Bar and Bat Mitzvah Across America (2005), tells the story of unique bar and bat mitzvahs from the Ozark Mountains to rural Louisiana to Alaska.

Oppenheimer takes a special interest in the spiritual lives of young people, from teenagers to people in their thirties. As a former rock music critic and a practicing review of fiction, Oppenheimer also enjoys showing how popular culture affects religion. Whether it's a baptism in the Coen Brothers' movie O Brother Where Art Thou? , a bar mitzvah on The Simpsons or a funeral on Sex and the City, religion is everywhere on our TVs and movie screens, and Oppenheimer watches with his keen journalist's eye.

Oppenheimer holds a PhD in religious studies from Yale University. He has been an NPR commentator, a newspaper editor, and a visiting professor at Stanford and Wesleyan universities and Hartford Seminary. He has delivered his humorous, accessible, intellectual speeches at colleges, high schools, churches, synagogues, and civic group meetings across the country.

“Can We Speak of a Secular Tradition of Islam”

Ruth Mas was born in Madrid, Spain and was raised in Montreal, Canada. While completing a B.A. degree in French-English Translation, she found herself traveling through Europe and Morocco and decided to pursue graduate studies in Islam and Religion. After thorough training in classical Islamic thought with Michael E. Marmura, she specialized in the thought of contemporary secular-liberal Muslim intellectuals. Her dissertation, “Margins of Tawhid: Liberalism and the Discourse of Plurality in Contemporary Islamic Thought,” was completed in 2006 under the supervision of Charles Hirschkind and James DiCenso. It draws on the work of Michel Foucault, Talal Asad and Judith Butler to think through the question of the constitution of modern Islamic subjects, and issues of secular-liberal governance and contemporary Islam in France.

Mas was recognized by Massey College at the University of Toronto in 2002, when she was awarded the Morris Wayman Prize for Interdisciplinary Research for her work on liberalism and Islam. In 2003 and 2004 she was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for the Advanced Study of the Humanities, Essen, Germany. In 2007, she was invited to Berlin as a visiting scholar by the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Viadrina University.

Most recently, she has pursued her study of Islam at Cornell University’s School of Criticism and Theory . She has also participated in the Seminar in Experimental Critical Theory at the University of California, Irvine. Her current work focuses on the connections between liberalism and affect, and their implications for Muslim subjects.

Mas is a 2008-2009 Fellow at the Centre for Humanities and the Arts at CU-Boulder and was a 2009-2010 Fellow at Cornell.

This web-site is developed and maintained by Bryan Rennie, the Vira I. Heinz Professor of Religion at Westminster College. Please address all questions, comments and corrections (and any good photographs that you might have of these events) to me at
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