The meeting, held to honor the 150th birth anniversary of the Hindu seer and social visionary Swami Vivekananda, convened engaged actors from government, education, science, media, and non-governmental organizations. Conference convener Dr. Pradip Ghosh of the Institute of World Religions, Washington Kali Temple, described the conference goals as seeking to “use the interfaith search for shared values … as the basis for efforts to eliminate poverty and support women's rights.”
Professor Rice's keynote address entitled, “Importance of Interfaith Cooperation to Solve World Problems,” followed the afternoon session on Women's Empowerment, Human Rights, and World Peace.
Ms. Rice is a strict presenter. High profile security was deliberately evident at all times. Forbidding rules and regulations for her time with us were read from the podium in advance, constraining the previously relaxed but suddenly snapped to attention participants in attendance; no video, no audio, nor still photography permitted. Questions must be submitted in writing, and will be received at the end of the formal presentation. Thankfully no instructions were given about chewing gum or proper posture.
Her presence on the other hand was pleasant. She is engaging, bright more than warm, but by no means exuding anything less than giving respectfully, sincerely, and whole-heartedly to her audience. She is a talented and responsible communicator, well prepared, polished, and appropriate to the assignment. She has a genuine presence, and seemed glad to be with a groups so primarily characterized by faith.
She is both the fully endowed politician, wiser in the shadows of nuance than the listener, and the authoritative force of the high powered and high paid professor. Professor Rice has been on the Stanford faculty since 1981
“They hired me when I was 11, she quipped with pleasant humor.” While there she won two of the highest teaching honors – the 1984 Walter J. Gores Award for Excellence in Teaching and the 1993 School of Humanities and Sciences Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching.
Rice brought themes and an orientation not often heard at gatherings of this sort, but her presence was valuable. It is proper that her political views should be brought before the scrutiny of spiritual leaders. Though speaking to an audience full of such guests as Buddhist Senseis, Hindu Swamis, One Spirit Interfaith Seminary graduates, and Christian clergy, Ms. Rice devoted much of her address to classical, political, American Conservatism. Her bridge across from the spiritual themes of the conference to her own trademark convictions lay in the phrase, “not just dialogue, but interfaith action.” With this shift to action, she leapt to an affirmation of hopefulness in the “Arab Spring,” and from there on to a discourse on freedom and democracy, rife with such language as those “on the right side of history.”
The path back to considerations less of a stretch for a meeting on interfaith, began by decrying the “tyranny of the majority,” and oppression of the weak. Freedom, and the ennobling gifts of democracy that Rice extols “must be for all,” she insisted, unabashed over its implications for an internationally aggressive America, yet rich in spiritual implications when we think that dreams for of positive welfare must be for every person, universal. This universalism, “for all” provided ground for the religious and spiritual elements of Ms. Rice's presentation. “Every great religion believes that every life is worthy,” she said. “Each religion must act on that.”
Thus our political theory lecture retired from our hearing as she shifted to reflections perhaps more apropos to the conference. She presented the roots of her own faith confession, the grand, religious and educational achievements of her grandfather
– the first college educated in her Birmingham, Alabama family, and originator of Presbyterianism in her family, which is also her own religious path. In these arise the enduring social and spiritual causes Ms Rice champions, causes perhaps more palatable to the interfaith-minded gathered, than the Conservative America foreign policy she led off with.
Her account of her personal spiritual faith, and of the causes and passions she champions, such as the education of women, and her persistent devotion to education, the arts, and the responsibility of religiously committed people to alleviate suffering was the more moving part of her own internal dialogue that unfolded in her address. As a woman of significant charisma and integrity, she successfully labored to traverse the political divide to a warm embrace among the interfaith peace-seekers present. This lay in the concept that most animated the best of her talk, all great religions affirm that every life must be treated as worthy.