Bill Apel, professor of religious studies, met with more than 300 renowned scholars at an international conference held in Rutland, England, to discuss engaged spirituality and interfaith friends April 9-11.
At the conference, Apel led a talk on engaged spirituality, which he describes as our deeper selves and making sense of what is below the surface, he said.
Apel has developed the topic for the majority of his academic career, which he said was inspired by the works of Thomas Merton, a 20th-century Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, Ky., who was both a poet and a social activist.
In his novel, “Signs of Peace,” Apel presents a comparative analysis of religion through Merton’s letters, highlighting the unifying thread of creating positive change in the world.
“Change has to occur within our own
experiences and then can extend to meet the larger needs of the world,” Apel said.
He said his objective in attending the conference, sponsored by the Thomas Merton Society, was to build on the research that resulted from his book “Signs of Peace” with scholars from seven countries.
Senior Scott Herron said he learned about Apel’s interest in the Trappist monks in his Monks and Mystics class with Apel at Linfield.
“It’s not always about trying to hurry with them — it’s about slowing down and getting to know people,” Herron said.
The members of the Thomas Merton Society aim to explore Merton’s works to see what lessons one can learn that are applicable today, Apel said.
“We don’t meet to just read the words from someone of the past, but to see what lessons are still to be learned,” he said.
Herron said there are two main categories of monks: those who are more contemplative and those who go out into the community and help.
The Trappist monks are among the more contemplative and isolated,
Herron said there is always a group of Trappist monks praying at the same time throughout the world at any given hour.
“An engaged spirituality says that now that we’ve turned inward, we should have an overflow into the world in which we live,” he said.
As part of his interfaith teachings, Apel highlights the connection between spirituality in his book as well as at the conference.
“Not every conference I go to is a peace conference, but every conference I go to I bring the message of peace,” he said. “We have to take our better selves and create acts of love, like caring for the earth, creating social justice and abolishing wars,” he said.
Throughout his career at Linfield, Apel has traveled to conferences in London, Berlin, Rome, Capetown and various places in Canada and the United States to discuss his interfaith teachings and spirituality.
“Whatever a person is going to do in his or her life, I think it’s important that he or she finds and discovers an engaged spirituality that will encourage them to create change,” he said.
Senior reporter Chelsea Langevin can be reached at email@example.com