The meaning of life? Start here
This Saturday Seattle University is hosting Search for Meaning: Pacific Northwest Spirituality Book Festival. People almost can't help asking the question, "What is the meaning of life?"
Seattle Times staff columnist
This Saturday Seattle University is hosting Search for Meaning: Pacific Northwest Spirituality Book Festival.
People almost can't help asking the question, "What is the meaning of life?"
I've read a lot of answers to that question, some funny, some deeply thoughtful, but most only momentarily satisfying.
But the purpose of the gathering isn't to present The Answer. Instead it's an opportunity for thinkers from varied faith traditions to talk about their answers to that and other questions, and listen to those others have found. It's about gaining mutual understanding.
Mark Markuly is the dean of the SU school of Theology and Ministry. He told me the university invited about 50 authors, "people who've dedicated their lives to exploring what it means to be a human being."
Last year was the first time SU hosted such a gathering. The authors were local and 400 to 450 people attended.
That was good enough to encourage a greater outreach. Presenters will come from around the country this time. The keynote speakers, Kathleen Norris and Gustav Niebuhr, are well-known writers on matters of spirituality.
Niebuhr comes from a family of theologians. His great uncle was Reinhold Niebuhr.
Gustav Niebuhr is a journalist who spent many years traveling the country writing about religion, most recently for The New York Times.
For the past six years, he's been at Syracuse University, where he is an associate professor in religion and the media.
"I think it's hard to go through life without at some time wondering what is the broader context for one's existence," he told me in a phone conversation Tuesday. "That is an inherently spiritual question, although it does not have to be answered through religion."
His most recent book fits well into the theme of the festival. It's titled, "Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America."
Niebuhr said he traveled the country speaking with "people who were really trying to be constructive about getting to know people of different faiths. And I concluded there was a great deal to talk about regardless of one's affiliation, about the miracle of being human and being alive."
Niebuhr said not that many Americans think their faith has the only answer. He cited polls in which about 70 percent of Americans say truth can be found in all religions and only about 20 percent say their way is the only way.
Niebuhr said he got the idea for his book on a visit to Seattle in 2002. He said Muslims at the Islamic School of Seattle told him Christians from the Church Council of Greater Seattle came out in the aftermath of 9/11 and made sure their school and the Idris Mosque were safe.
That kind of interfaith relationship is a modern phenomenon, he said. And that communication and contact across belief systems strengthen people's faith in their own tradition, partly because they have to think about and explain it.
Seattle U's Markuly said the university invited people of so many different faiths because, "we need to be at the crossroads of ideas about the meaning of life."
And his definition? "The root of the meaning of life to me is trying to embrace our humanity in its fullness."
That's a good place to start a conversation.
The festival is open to the public. RSVP at www.seattleu.edu/stm/.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
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