Distilled Wisdom: Practices for Prospering in the Pandemic

“If we take the world’s enduring religions at their best, we discover the distilled wisdom of the human race.”

—Dr. Huston Smith, Chair of the MIT Philosophy, 1958-73; Leading scholar of world religions

Register for our fifth installment, LOVE, April 8th 7:00-8:30pm!

This year, Addir is hosting a series of interfaith conversations to equip us with practices for perseverance, resilience, and flourishing. Each talk will feature two speakers from different faith traditions, talking about specific practices we can apply in our daily lives.

Fifth Installment: Love, Thursday, April 8th, 7:00-8:30pm. Register here.

Valarie KaurValarie Kaur is a renowned civil rights leader and celebrated prophetic voice “at the forefront of progressive change” (Center for American Progress). Valarie burst into American consciousness in the wake of the 2016 election when her Watch Night Service address went viral with 40 million views worldwide. Her question “Is this the darkness of the tomb – or the darkness of the womb?” reframed the political moment and became a mantra for people fighting for change. Valarie now leads the Revolutionary Love Project to reclaim love as a force for justice in America. In the last twenty years, as a lawyer, innovator, and award-winning filmmaker, Valarie has won policy change on multiple fronts – hate crimes, racial profiling, immigration detention, solitary confinement, Internet freedom, and more. She founded Groundswell MovementFaithful Internet, and the Yale Visual Law Project to inspire and equip new generations of advocates. Valarie has been a regular TV commentator on MSNBC and contributor to CNN, NPR, PBS, the Hill, Huffington Post, and the Washington Post. A daughter of Sikh farmers in California’s heartland, Valarie earned degrees at Stanford UniversityHarvard Divinity School, and Yale Law School. Valarie’s book, SEE NO STRANGER: A Memoir & Manifesto of Revolutionary Love, was released in 2020 and expands on her “blockbuster” TED Talk.

Greg EpsteinGreg M. Epstein serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard and MIT, and is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book, Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe. A prominent leader for nearly two decades in national efforts to build a positive, inclusive and inspiring humanist community to serve the growing population of atheists, agnostics, and nonreligious people, he has been described as a “godfather to the [humanist] movement” by The New York Times Magazine in recognition of his efforts. Epstein was also named “one of the top faith and moral leaders in the United States” by Faithful Internet, a project coordinated by the United Church of Christ with assistance from the Stanford Law School Center for Internet and Society.

Greg currently serves as the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, a position he has held since 2005. In 2018, he also joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Office of Religious, Spiritual, and Ethical Life as Humanist Chaplain at MIT and “Convener” for Ethical Life. His arrival at MIT in this new role inspired him to a new focus on exploring the ethics of technology and what it might mean to use technology ethically and humanistically today. Greg is currently on a paid sabbatical for the 2019-20 academic year (through July 15, 2020) to research and write about technology, ethics, and humanism, including as a columnist at TechCrunch, a leading publication reporting on the business of technology, startups, venture capital funding, and Silicon Valley.

Previously, Greg has served in an advisory capacity for a diverse range of interfaith and humanist institutions, including Boston Mayor Martin Walsh’s Interfaith Advisory Task Force and the Advisory Board of the Secular Student Alliance. He also supported “The Inclusive America Project,” an initiative of the Aspen Institute co-chaired by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. He has served for nearly a decade on the Executive Committee of the Harvard Chaplains, with a term as vice president. He has also helped establish humanist chaplaincies or similar organizations at Yale, Stanford, USC, and other academic institutions.

A frequently-quoted expert on humanism, religion and ethics, Greg authored the New York Times bestselling book, “Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe.” In addition to his current work at TechCrunch, his writing has appeared on CNN.com, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Salon, and WBUR/Cognoscenti. His work has also been widely discussed in the national and international media, including the New York Times, The Atlantic, CNN, The Boston Globe, and on dozens of radio and television programs. Over the years, he has led and facilitated thousands of humanist and interfaith programs and educational opportunities at Harvard and elsewhere – universities, community and state colleges, urban public and expensive private high schools, at the United States Congress and Senate, megachurches, synagogues and Islamic centers, and interfaith and civic institutions of many other kinds.

Greg received the Humanist Visionary Award from the Foundation Beyond Belief and is the 2018-19 recipient of the Irving Wolfson Award for humanist thought in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. In 2005, he received ordination as a Humanist Rabbi from the International Institute for Secular Humanistic Judaism. He holds a B.A. (Religion and Chinese) and an M.A. (Judaic Studies) from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and a Masters of Theological Studies from the Harvard Divinity School.

Fourth Installment: Resilience, Wednesday, March 10th, 7:00-8:30pm. Register here.

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi  is the Founding President and CEO  of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his undergraduate degree (summa cum laude) and was an Integral Honors Scholar (studying Philosophy and Physics), and has a graduate degree in Comparative Philosophy of Religion from Harvard University.

He studied, trained and was ordained by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He has been interviewed by the National Public Radio and articles on him and his work have appeared in the New York Times and the Boston Globe. He also speaks at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and various institutes of learning.

Venerable Tenzin serves on the Board of several academic, humanitarian, and religious organizations. He lectures internationally on subjects ranging from philosophy, science, ethics and religion to socio-political thought.

Father Michael Medas, M.S.W., joins the MIT community with 32 years of varied and creative experience as a priest of the Archdiocese of Boston. Through those years a quote from Pope Saint John XXIII has been a dynamic light: “Seek what unites, not what divides you one from another.”

Father Michael graduated from both St. John’s Seminary College (B.A. Philosophy) and St. John’s Seminary School of Theology (M.Div.), being ordained a Catholic priest in June 1988. After serving several years in parish ministry, Fr. Michael was chosen for graduate studies, in Washington, D.C., pursing a Master of Social Work degree at Gallaudet University. Upon completion of the degree he was appointed Director of the Apostolate for the Deaf in the Archdiocese of Boston; a position he held until 2007. Fr Michael was then appointed to the faculty of Saint John’s Seminary, Boston, as Director of Pastoral Formation and Professor of Homiletics.

In June 2010, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston, appointed Father Michael Director of Clergy Personnel for the Archdiocese of Boston. He was the Cardinal’s delegate responsible for facilitating the assignments of 450 active priests of the Archdiocese, planning and implementing ongoing formation events for the Archdiocesan clergy – with an emphasis on those ordained 0yr – 5years, and seeking a holistic ministry environment for clergy holding Archdiocesan assignments.

Upon completion of his assignment as Director of Clergy Personnel, Fr Michael served as initiator and pastor of parish collaboratives in Cohasset and Hull, Middleton and Topsfield, Massachusetts.

In addition to Father Michael’s ministry to the local Church, he serves as a chaplain in the United States Air Force Reserve/Air National Guard with assignments throughout the United States – including at the United States Air Force Academy -, overseas, and locally. Father Michael is currently Wing Chaplain to the 158th Fighter Wing in Burlington, Vermont.

A Scripture quote that Father Michael seeks to live: “If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it doesn’t have a swelled head. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts God, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never dies.” 1Cor 13:3 – 8

Third installment: Gratitude, Thursday, February 25th, 7:00-8:30pm. Register here.

Sister Nada El-Alami has dedicated her time to be at the service of the Muslim community. She has served for over 15 years in leading study circles. During the last 10 years, she has planned and supported faith-oriented programs, such as camps and retreats. Much of her work has been focused on youth and young adults. She has also lead educational institutions targeting young Muslims. She has a background in psychology and leadership and holds an Ijaza (authenticated certificate) in teaching Qur’anic reading. She is very passionate about working with Muslim youth. Nada is married and has 3 children.

Daryush Mehta is the Zoroastrian chaplain at Harvard and MIT, an active member of the Zoroastrian Association of the Greater Boston Area (ZAGBA), and a research scientist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in the field of voice and speech disorders. Daryush arrived to MIT for graduate school and became involved in ZAGBA, helping co-found the Zoroastrian Students of Boston (ZSB) that brought together students and youth from around the area to perform service activities, engage in religious dialog, and host eminent Zoroastrian leaders and scholars.

Daryush is honored to continue the good work of Dr. Cyrus Mehta who diligently represented the Zoroastrian community as MIT Chaplain for 15 years. Although not a minister by training, Daryush’s maternal grandfather, Dasturji N. D. Minochehr-Homji, was a High Priest of the Zoroastrian community in Bombay and an eminent religious scholar. His grandfather’s teachings, kindness, and philosophy of dialog and inclusion are imbibed within Daryush. Along with Dr. Mehta, Daryush helps organize a Gatha Study Group that meets regularly at Harvard to discuss the Gathic scripture (holy songs) of the prophet Zarathushtra.

Second Installment: Connection, Tuesday, November 17th, 7:00-8:30pm EDT. Register here.

Rabbi Michelle H. Fisher SM ’97 is the Executive Director of MIT Hillel, a job that now synthesizes her two academic courses of studies.  As an undergraduate at Princeton University and as a graduate student at MIT, she studied organic chemistry.  She received a Wexner Graduate Fellowship to study at the Jewish Theological Seminary in NY, from which she received her ordination in 2002. Before returning to MIT in her current role, Rabbi Fisher served as the Associate Rabbi of Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac, MD and the rabbi of Congregation B’nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, CA.  She also served as a Naval Chaplain Candidate, ministering to Jewish and non-Jewish sailors and Marines.

Rabbi Fisher has a passion for teaching, and for helping Jews of all ages travel along the paths of their Jewish journeys.  She loves the questioning and exploring that is inherent in the lives of emerging adults on the college campus, and is inspired by the dream that every MIT Jew will graduate from the Institute being able to see their lives, including the work they do in science and engineering, through a Jewish lens.  She describes her second career at MIT as “the mothership calling her home,” and she’s thrilled every day to be at the Institute.

Sadananda Dasa (Hindu Chaplain, Vaishnava) did his undergraduate degree in Mechanical Engineering from NIT Allahabad and later his MBA from S P Jain Institute of Management, Mumbai, India. Sadananda has accumulated 10 years of experience in the corporate world in various management positions. During his stint of four years as a Lead Consultant at Infosys, he took keen interest in the philosophy of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (a fifteenth century saint who inaugurated the Bhakti Movement of India). He joined ISKCON Bangalore in 2011 and was trained in the philosophy and practice of Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads and Srimad Bhagavatam. He also received diksha (spiritual initiation) from Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acharya of ISKCON, under the Officiating Acharya system of initiation. While in ISKCON Bangalore, he actively counselled hundreds of students and young IT engineers in professional-personal life balance, peer pressure and stress management, life enrichment programs, meditation techniques, Yoga for Happiness – all on the principles of Bhagavad Gita.

Since August 2016, he is located in Boston, MA and continues to counsel students, university faculty and young families and help them as a spiritual guide. He also conducts online courses on meditation and Vedic literatures for students and young people from around the world. He also spends considerable time of his day in spiritual practices, mantra meditation, self-study and distance-study of Vedic literatures with his seniors in ISKCON Bangalore. “Helping others to spiritually enrich their lives with wisdom, refined character, compassion and happiness is my life’s mission,” says Sadananda.

First Installment: Justice, Tuesday, October 20th, 7:00-8:30pm EDT.  

Rev. Mariama White-Hammond is an advocate for ecological & social justice, youth engagement, and Spirit-filled organizing. Rev. Mariama is the founding pastor of New Roots AME Church in Dorchester. New Roots is a multi-racial, multi-class community that is innovating new ways of being a church.  Rev. Mariama is active in secular and interfaith justice efforts. In particular, she uses an intersectional lens in her ecological work, challenging folks to see the connections between immigration and climate change or the relationship between energy policy and economic justice. She is a fellow with the Green Justice Coalition which brings together 8 social/environmental justice groups from around Massachusetts. She speaks throughout the country and was the MC for both the 2017 Boston Women’s March and Boston People’s Climate Mobilization. As the former director of Project HIP-HOP, she used the arts as a tool to raise awareness for social issues. Rev. Mariama has received numerous awards including the Barr Fellowship, the Celtics Heroes Among Us, The Roxbury Founders Day Award and the Boston NAACP Image award. She was selected as one of the Grist 50 Fixers for 2019 and Sojourners 11 Women Shaping the Church.

Brian Aull is originally from Indianapolis, Indiana. He studied electrical engineering at Purdue University and then at MIT, earning his Ph.D. in 1985.   Since then, he has worked as a staff scientist at MIT developing solid-state image sensors. An adherent of the Bahá’í Faith since 1981, Brian is interested in interfaith work, the dialogue between religion and science, and the role of spirituality in creating a peaceful and just society. His most recent project is the publication of a book, The Triad: Three Civic Virtues That Could Save American Democracy.