The Colgate Scene
November 1999
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Seeking to gain an insight still
Chapel House and the Fund for the Study of the Great Religions Celebrate a 40th Anniversary
by John Ross Carter

Chapel House from the rear.
In the late 1950s negotiations began between an anonymous donor, her lawyers, and Kenneth W. Morgan, who taught at Colgate from 1946-1974. Ken, as Morgan is known by all, guided the donor, referred to as "the lady," into finding ways to give her money to assure a deepening understanding of humankind's religiousness. The donor, early in her life, had discovered, in what she described as a time of spiritual dryness and doubt, that the study of the writings, the music, the art, and the discipline of other religious traditions illuminated and gave new vitality to her Christian faith. From this anonymous person's benevolence, as a result of the vision and guiding hand of Ken, has arisen Chapel House and the Fund for the Study of the Great Religions at Colgate and the Center for the Study of the Great Religions at Harvard University. The center at Harvard was designed to train persons to become teachers of the great religious traditions and the fund at Colgate was to enhance the understanding of religiousness at Colgate or anywhere else in the world. Chapel House was designed in a quieter mode: it was to provide a facility where young men (Colgate was not coed at the time), studying for the professions and business careers, could be exposed to the religious insights shared by persons from around the world.

John Ross Carter

Ken Morgan checks the schedule with wife Amy and son Scott.

     Chapel House, built on the hill in the woods above the campus, opened its doors in 1959, and for 40 years has provided access to its library of more than 5,000 volumes, to many works of religious art, to a music room with a large collection of recorded religious music, to a serene chapel, and to seven rooms providing privacy and quiet for guests for whom meals are prepared and served in the dining room. Chapel House patiently awaits the arrival of one from any religious tradition, or none, who seeks to gain insight into the testimonies of religious men and women around the world. And persons who have provided those testimonies have done so through words, through music, through art, through religious disciplines, and in silence. And so, visitors and guests have an excellent library available, religious music on vinyl records, cassettes, and CDs, religious art in every direction one looks, and the silence of the serene chapel.

     In the past 40 years, Chapel House has welcomed persons from Colgate and from all over the world, representatives of all of the major religious traditions, and persons with no religious affiliation. The chapel has not been dedicated: it continues to be consecrated by the worship and meditation of those who have used it.

Lowell Bloss '65, professor of religion at Hobart and William Smith, left, and Charles Hallisey '75, professor of humanities at Harvard, spoke on "Memories Still Vibrant."

"Religious Sensitivities and Life in the Larger World" was the topic for Amy Snyder '95, who is involved in veterinary science, and Christopher Kenney '88, an architect.

     The Fund for the Study of the Great Religions of the World has been active, also for 40 years, in promoting a greater understanding of the religious traditions of humankind at Colgate or anywhere else in the world. Its aspiration is for excellence in this pursuit carried out with academic rigor and thoroughness so that what is said is well founded, and is communicated with sensitivity to the quality of human religiousness in the hope that one might move nearer to an accurate understanding of the facts and an adequate understanding of faith. Since its inception, the fund has sponsored projects leading to the publication of eleven volumes, several of which have been translated into many languages. More than 130 internationally known scholars representing the great religious traditions of the world have visited Colgate and have contributed to undergraduate education here under the auspices of the fund.

     To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Chapel House and the fund, a series of special events were held September 30 - October 3, beginning with a reception for Buildings and Grounds staff members, Campus Safety department members, and others on the administrative and clerical staffs at Colgate, who have been supportive of the ministry of Chapel House over the years. Friday afternoon, Irene Hou, widow of professor of economics Jimmy Hou, gave a demonstration of Chinese ink painting titled "On Catching Moving Bamboo," followed by a panel presentation by Omid Safi, assistant professor of philosophy and religion at Colgate, and Russell Blackwood, professor of philosophy, emeritus, of Hamilton College, titled "On Inferring the Presence of Faith through a Study of Islam." The evening was capped with a concert of classical Persian Sufi music by Amir Hussein and Saadi Shafiei.

Kevin Lee '83 with Georgia Frank of the philosophy and religion department

Irene Hou demonstrated how to capture the movement of bamboo on paper.

The Chapel House library is full of volumes and works of art.
     Saturday was a day of panel presentations, mostly by Colgate students and alumni, with Lauren Mayer '96 and Eric Schaeffer '92 speaking about "Reflections of Living in A Religious Heritage Abroad," and Neelma Alli '99, Tammy Broeckelmann '00 and Ben Danner '01 addressing "Personal Faith and Religious Pluralism." Lowell W. Bloss '65, professor of religion, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and Charles Hallisey '75, John L. Loeb associate professor of the humanities, Harvard University, recalled "Memories Still Vibrant," while Christopher Kenney '88 and Amy Snyder '92 considered "Religious Sensitivities and Life in the Larger World"; and Simeon Baum '76, Kevin Lee '83 and John Friberg '92 responded to the question "Was the Study of a Religious Tradition Other than One's Own a Waste of Time for One Interested in the Practice of Law?" A special panel was formed by guests who had stayed at Chapel House: "Chapel House: That Gem on Colgate's Campus," with Rev. Velma Brock, Jeanette Powell, Susan Weitz and Brian Middleton. The evening was brought to a close by a concert, "Hindu Devotional Music," by T. Viswanathan, R. Raghavan, V. Mokkapati and Susan Tveekrem, of Wesleyan University. The participants gathered in the Quaker mode in the chapel of Chapel House on Sunday morning, and the events came to an end with a reception immediately following a concert by Music From China, "Silk Strings and Bamboo Winds," Sunday afternoon.

John Ross Carter, Robert Ho professor in Asian Studies, professor of philosophy and religion, and chair of the department, has served as director of Chapel House and the fund for 25 years.
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