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September 30, 2006

Boston Research Center for the 21st Century Hosts Third Annual Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue

BRC's Third Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue focused on "Emerson and the Power of the Imagination"

On September 30, 2006, the Boston Research Center for the 21st Century (BRC)* hosted its third Ikeda Forum for Intercultural Dialogue. This year's forum, titled "Emerson and the Power of the Imagination," was held at BRC's Cambridge, Massachusetts center. Quoting from the BRC's website, "Ralph Waldo Emerson once observed that imagination is not the talent of a gifted few, but the health of a whole society. Yet daily we see evidence of failed imagination--in our classrooms, in our political leaders, in the violence that endangers our world. Now more than ever, we need our imaginers. Join us as we explore the power of a healthy imagination in helping to create the world we long for." Over 150 attended the day-long event featuring poetry, music, and a keynote speech by Sarah Ann Wider, professor of English at Colgate University, New York, and 2006 president of The Emerson Society.

BRC Executive Director Virginia Benson opened the day's activities. BRC President Masao Yokota warmly welcomed all the participants, sharing a personal anecdote with BRC founder Daisaku Ikeda that added to Mr. Yokota's understanding of the power of imagination to inspire change and the importance of it being driven by a spirit of generosity. The poetic aspect of this power of imagination as understood by Mr. Ikeda was shared through an excerpt of his poem, "The Sun of 'Jiyu' over a New Land," read by Andrew Gebert.

Colgate University Professor Sarah Ann Wider, 2006 president of The Emerson Society, gives keynote speech

Colgate University Professor Sarah Ann Wider, 2006 president of The Emerson Society, gives keynote speech

After a musical interlude by a string quartet, Dr. Wider delivered her keynote speech, "Traveling with Emerson on a Train of Thought," in which she eloquently spoke about the starting point for imagination that can heal and nurture human society and life itself: "If we want to make imagination feel at home, generosity shows us the way. How else can imagination thrive but in the place where welcoming comes first and where judgment feels no need to speak . . . Open hearted, open handed, open minded, equivalent to the expansiveness Emerson promises his listeners when they come into the "wide country" and can "see the world" and not their own pinched narrowness. When Emerson talks about generosity, he connects it with a large understanding. If we are generous, we see well beyond ourselves and our individual limitations. We are generous of "sentiment," of "mind," of "affection," of "intellect," of "sympathy." It may well be the primary catalyst for the imagination." (The full text of Dr. Wider's speech can be found at http://ikedacenter.org/thinkers/wider_keynote.htm).

The afternoon presentations provided diverse perspectives on imagining personal and social transformation. Summer Justice Project Students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School (CRLS), along with Betsy Bard and Radhika Rao, Harvard Graduate School of Education, shared their community theater project that incorporated role-play, improvisation, and self observation that activated the moral imagination of the participating student. Their presentation, using video clips, explored moral dilemmas resolved through the power of friendship.

Author and educator Jeannette Armstrong, member of the Okanagan Syilx Nation, explained how Emerson thoughts were in alignment with "the way of knowledge of my people." She delved into deeper meanings of the word imagination, explaining that it is deeply imbedded in the Okanagan people's understanding of life and creates inclusively. As an example, she summarized an Okanagan teaching story.

William Henry Lewis, professor of English, Colgate University, and Nathanael Fareed Mahluli, musician and director, IU Soul Revue, Indiana University, combined story telling and jazz saxophone for the third presentation. In concert, they performed Lewis's short story, "Rossonian Days, which with its rhythmic language and music, told and demonstrated how jazz speaks from the heart and the imagination.

Forum attendees break into groups to discuss how to harness the power of "imagination" to heal society and the self

Following the presentations, group dialogues focused on the following two questions:

  • In what ways can we--individually and collectively--bring imagination more fully into our lives?
  • How do you envision a healthy imagination contributing to social justice in the United States?

Andrew Gebert incorporated the essence of the discussions into an improvisational poem that closed the day's proceedings.

*Note: The center changed its name to Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in April 2009. [Read related article.]

[Adapted from a Boston Research Center report by Patti Marxsen. All photos courtesy of Marilyn Humphries]