In partnership with the Salaam-Chai-Paradise Interfaith Forum, and in the interest of promoting cross-cultural awareness and better understanding of our neighbors and ourselves, Paradise Valley United Methodist Church is launching a “Common Ground” series of gatherings and scholarly lectures this fall. These community events welcome members of the interfaith community, neighbors, and PVUMC members and constituents to find common ground in an exploration of different worldviews, beliefs, cultural orientations and prejudices.

More so than at any other time in decades, Americans are experiencing a social upheaval that has led to seemingly intractable and extreme polarization. We struggle to understand each other’s cultural nuances, and don’t see eye to eye on economics, religion or politics. It’s not just that we can’t seem to agree. Often times, we can’t even begin to understand the positions of others, suggesting that there are fundamental, substantive differences in how we view reality.

Confronted with this situation, the church plans to take a step back and call a “time out” by extending an invitation to explore the diverse worldviews, beliefs, cultural orientations, and prejudices we hold. The lectures are geared to explain how they form and why they are such powerful forces in our lives. With these insights, the hope is that participants will be able to better understand others and move closer to that illusive common ground.

 

Navigating Common Ground

The “Common Ground” learning track is composed of two elements. Navigating Common Ground and Finding Common Ground.

Navigating Common Ground is a series of four videos and discussions scheduled for Thursday nights at 6:30 pm in H5 on September 7, 14, 21 and 28.

Based primarily on TED Talks from diverse speakers, attendees will be invited to talk about the conflicts that confront us, and how we can move toward reconciliation. Become more acquainted with cultural conflicts, begin to learn the vocabulary of “Common Ground,” and discover from diverse perspectives some of the explanations for these conflicts. The TED Talks are from prominent thinkers and authors, as is one Youtube video featuring Brian McLaren.

All of these gatherings will be in Room H5 at PVUMC, from 6:30 to 8 pm, and led by two PVUMC members, Keith Sobraske and Stu Selthun:

September 7, 2017
Stories that Form and Divide Us
Youtube video (pub. 1/15/15) by Brian McLaren, Religious Thinker/Author/Speaker/Activist
Leader: Stu Selthun

Watch Brian McLaren’s talk from the 2013 Apprentice Institute National Conference titled “Dueling Stories: Dealing with Conflict in the Biblical Narrative.” Brian’s talk will challenge your biblical narratives, as well as provide deep and meaningful insights into how the bible has been used over the centuries.

September 14, 2017
Can a Divided America Heal?
TED Talk with Social Psychologist Jonathan Haidt (pub. 11/8/16)
Leader: Keith Sobraske

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies the morals that form the basis of our political choices. In conversation with TED Curator Chris Anderson, he describes the patterns of thinking and historical causes that have led to such sharp divisions in America — and provides a vision for how the country might move forward. In our discussion, we will examine politics as a microcosm of societal polarization.

September 21, 2017
The Danger of a Single Story
TED Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Novelist
Leader: Stu Selthun

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. Inspired by Nigerian history and tragedies all but forgotten by recent generations of westerners, Ms. Adichie’s novels and stories are jewels in the crown of diasporan literature.

September 28, 2017
It’s Time to Reclaim Religion
TED Talk by Rabbi Sharon Brous (1/23/17)
Leader: Keith Sobraske

At a moment when the world seems to be spinning out of control, religion might feel irrelevant — or like part of the problem. But Rabbi Sharon Brous believes we can reinvent religion to meet the needs of modern life. In this impassioned talk, Brous shares four principles of a revitalized religious practice and offers faith of all kinds as a hopeful counter-narrative to the numbing realities of violence, extremism and pessimism.

 

Finding Common Ground Lecture Series

The second part of “Common Ground” is comprised of a series of three scholarly lectures on Thursdays, October 12 and 26, and November 9. The week following each lecture, participants are invited to follow-up roundtable discussions to delve deeper into the subject matter and share reactions to the ideas presented by each scholar.

The lectures will be in the PVUMC Chapel at 6:30 pm, presented by Dr. Adam Cohen on October 12; Dr. Steven Neuberg on October 26, and Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes on November 9. The Roundtable Discussions will be in Room H1 at 6:30 pm on the Thursdays following each lecture.

October 12, 2017
6:30 pm, PVUMC Chapel
Know Thyself: Why and How Do We Believe What We Do?:
The Foundations of Our Worldviews and Belief Structures
Lecturer: Dr. Adam Cohen, ASU, Psychology Department

How similar or different are the beliefs, morals, and worldviews of members of different faith communities? Do these have to be essentially the same for us to trust one another? Dr. Adam Cohen, Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University and an international award winning researcher in the psychology of religion, will first discuss theories about the ancient origins and functions of ethical worldviews and belief systems, then summarize his research on how and why members of different religions have similar and different beliefs and morals, both important components of worldviews. He will then summarize his research that, although members of different religions can have both overlapping and different beliefs and morals, there can still, reassuringly, be high levels of trust between persons with differing belief structures and worldviews.

Adam Cohen, Associate Professor, in the ASU Department of Psychology, earned his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000. His main research interests fuse cultural, social, and personality psychology. He is interested in how religious differences function as cultural differences, affecting domains including religious identity and motivation, well-being, moral judgment, forgiveness, and the like. Cohen is also interested in applying evolutionary theory to religion. He is associate editor of Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, and on the editorial boards of several other leading journals.

Roundtable Discussions concerning Dr. Cohen’s presentation: October 19
Leaders: “Common Ground” Facilitators

October 26
Why and How Do We See Others as “Different”?:
The Ubiquity and Anatomy of Prejudice and Exclusion
Lecturer: Dr. Steven Neuberg, ASU, Psychology Department

Prejudices infiltrate all societies, shaping institutions and coloring much of everyday social interaction, often with extremely harmful consequences. Why are prejudices so ubiquitous, so “normal,” and so readily engaged? Why are our likes and dislikes, hopes and fears, senses of security and vulnerability, so apparently contingent upon others’ nations of origin, ethnicity, race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual preferences, and political affiliations? Dr. Steven Neuberg—Foundation Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Arizona State University—will trace the ancestral and contemporary origins of stereotypes and prejudices, explore how they serve a wide range of fundamental motives, discuss why they are both so difficult (and sometimes so easy) to inhibit and change, and suggest both traditional and unconventional approaches for reducing their impact.

Steven Neuberg received his A.B. from Cornell University and an M.S. and Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. He is Chair of the Psychology Department, and Foundation Professor of Psychology at Arizona State University. Dr. Neuberg integrates social-cognitive and evolutionary approaches in his research exploring the origins, nature, and nuances of prejudices and stereotypes, and the ways that fundamental motivations shape cognition and social behavior. He also founded the ASU Global Group Relations Project, a multidisciplinary and global study of factors, including religion, which shape intergroup conflict. Neuberg is a Fellow of multiple scientific societies and the recipient of several teaching awards, including ASU’s 2012 Outstanding Doctoral Mentor Award.

Roundtable Discussions concerning Dr. Neuberg’s presentation: November 2
Leaders: “Common Ground” Facilitators

November 9
Where Do We Go From Here? “True Grit” and Experiential Strategies for Finding Common Ground
Lecturer: Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Claremont Lincoln University

Being human is a messy endeavor. We are made to be in relationship—built for community, craving to be known and seen and heard, better together. And yet, some flaw in us allows us to dwell on difference and allow diversity to become divisiveness. We fear the unknown. We resist the new. We turn strident and hateful when made to change. Why is this? Leaning into the unknown is a transformative skill. We can practice becoming okay with difference. We can become virtuosic at embracing the unknown. When we learn that diversity will indeed transform us: body, soul, and nation, we can systematically name, teach, and celebrate the practices that help us persevere in shaky places.

Dr. Varnon-Hughes will help us understand the idea of “resilience” and why it’s an essential ingredient in establishing Common Ground. She will also share examples of tools and techniques you can use immediately in our everyday lives, and in our workplaces, congregations, communities, and families—to help become okay with uncertainty, and allow a posture of openness to deepen our engagement with others, with our own ethical or spiritual traditions, and with humanity.

Stephanie Varnon-Hughes holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary, and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education from Webster University. Dr. Varnon-Hughes is the Director of Cross-Cultural & Interfaith Programs at Claremont Lincoln University. She is an award winning teacher and interfaith leader whose research interests include the history, theories, and practices of inter-religious education, mindfulness and compassion practices, public policy and education, and how digital and online resources can make education accessible and learner-focused. Her doctoral dissertation, in inter-religious education, focused on disequilibrium, resilience, and reflective practice as key ingredients for learning.

Roundtable Discussions concerning Dr. Varnon-Hughes’ presentation: November 16
Leaders: “Common Ground” Facilitators

 

Goals of Common Ground

The purpose of the Common Ground learning track is not to argue the merits of particular positions on, for example, immigration and refugee issues, interfaith and other religious conflict, LBGT and other issues, political polarization, general misunderstanding, or even trends toward incivility. The goal is to thoughtfully consider these issues with an open mind, being mindful of the groups or “tribes” in which we find ourselves and gathering insights as to how and why others hold positions that conflict with our own. Finding common ground needed so desperately in our world is the challenge we face, and the series provides ways to find meaning, purpose and joy through discernment and action, consistent with the messages and principles of our respective faith traditions.

 

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