"Spiritual but not Religious": PSR's 2010 Earl Lectures

December 13, 2009

A recent Pew Research Survey of the religious landscape found that 30 percent of young people on the West Coast consider themselves "spiritual but not religious." What does this unprecedented shift mean to contemporary religion? That broad topic will be explored January 26-28 at the 109th annual Earl Lectures and Leadership Conference, held at the Ecumenical Center of Berkeley, on Scenic Avenue across the street from Pacific School of Religion, host and sponsor of the event. Spiritual but not Religious: Chasing the Divine is the theme of the three days of lectures and workshops.

The phrase "spiritual but not religious" can describe those who glean inspiration solely from nature and the physical world around them, as well as those who prefer to divorce themselves from institutional structures. The phrase also refers to some who are alienated from organized religion--refugees from a house of worship that has not accepted or affirmed them. "Spiritual but not religious" can also describe those who find church irrelevant or who prefer to worship in individual and private ways.

Among the questions that will be explored at the Earl Lectures are: What is the essential difference between spiritual and religious? What can religious institutions learn from those who claim to be one and not the other? And what kind of critique can those who call themselves religious offer about the description "spiritual but not religious"? The 2010 Earl Lecturers Matthew Fox, Melissa Wilcox, Scotty McLennan, and Donna Allen will help those attending explore these vital questions that affect all of us who "chase the divine."

Matthew Fox (lecturing January 26 at 10 am) has worked to reawaken the West to its own mystical tradition, from medieval Christian mystics to contemporary scientists who are also mystics. Fox is founder and president emeritus of Wisdom University (formerly University of Creation Spirituality) in Oakland, CA and author, among other books, of Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet (2002).

Melissa Wilcox (January 27, 9:45 am) is assistant professor of religion at Whitman University in Walla Walla, WA and director of the gender studies program there. A sociologist of religion and gender/queer studies, she is interested in cultural power of religious and quasi-religious narrative, especially as it affects oppression and empowers resistance.

Scotty McLennan (January 28, 9 am) is dean for religious life at Stanford University. His primary research interests are in the interface of religion, ethics, and the professions. The author of Jesus Was a Liberal: Reclaiming Christianity for All, he teaches and oversees religious affairs on campus and is the minister of Stanford Memorial Church.

Donna E. Allen (January 28, 10 am) is founder and pastor of New Revelation Community Church in Oakland. She has taught courses on sexuality and gender at Pacific School of Religion, and has also taught preaching and worship at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, Saint Paul School of Theology in Missouri, and Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

In addition to the lectures, events during the three-day event include a series of workshops connected to the theme of the Earl Lectures; a performance by Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir; a panel discussion of women's spirituality; a film screening; and an informal discussion meeting, "theology on tap."

The Earl Lectures are free, open to the public, and require no registration. Registration for the leadership conference workshops is $125. For workshop details and to register, go to PSR's Web site, or call 510/849-8218 or 800/999-0528, ext. 8218. For the first time, this year's Earl Lectures will offer both academic and continuing education credit.

A multidenominational Christian seminary in Berkeley, California, Pacific School of Religion has been preparing bold leaders for historic and emerging faith communities since 1866. For more about PSR, see: psr.edu.