Born from the ideas of Vatican II, the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture established the Courtyard of the Gentiles in 2010 to facilitate interaction between Catholics and non-Catholics on a variety of topics, including science and art. Having already held conferences across the world, the initiative has come to the United States for the first time; this week’s “Faith, Culture and the Common Good” will run at Georgetown from April 9 to 11.
The conference includes panels constructed by the Office of the President in conjunction with the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs; it includes professors from University of California, Berkeley, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Pitzer College and Harvard University.
The conference is the result of a partnership between Georgetown, through the Office of the President, and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, through the Washington Archdiocese.
Previous installments include a February conference in Budapest called “Morality, Economics, Secular Society in the 21st Century” and Berlin’s “Freedom Experiences With and Without God.”
“The event will provide a context for participants to engage in meaningful dialogue and to strengthen our collective commitment to the common good. The dialogue among people is an essential component of this gathering,” Georgetown University Director of Media Relations Rachel Pugh wrote in an email.
Pugh emphasized how civic life can be ameliorated if people of different faith traditions or no religious affiliations combine.
“In addition to fascinating discussions on how people of different faith traditions, as well as those who claim no religious affiliation, can work together to enrich civic life in America, we are exploring culture through performance,” Pugh wrote.
Thursday’s Gaston Hall panels, “Realizing the Common Good” and “Faith, Culture and Community,” focused on this question of civic life. The day featured opening remarks from University President John J. DeGioia, Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. Cokie Roberts, of ABC News and NPR, moderated the first plenary session, while Paul Elie of the Berkley Center moderated the second. The day featured breakout sessions interspersed between panels on Copley Lawn, in “Tents of Dialogue.” A performance of Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” by theater troupe Compagnia de’ Colombari followed in the evening.
Kicking off the conference, Talib Kweli and five other hip-hop artists of various faiths performed Wednesday at the Kennedy Center, followed by a panel discussion about the influence of faith in hip-hop music.
The concert, which was entitled “Faith, Hip-Hop and the Common Good,” was open to the public and featured a nearly packed audience at the center’s Eisenhower Theatre, which seats over 1,000 people.
Hip-hop icon Russell Simmons, whose book on meditation was distributed to all attendees, opened the event with an introduction, explaining the importance of music in his faith.
“Music draws you to the present moment,” he said. “When society goes wrong, a musician can look inside and correct it. The world is sucking us out, but music is sucking us in.”
Simmons explained hip-hop’s specific place in music.
“Hip-hop is a good place to start. … All the prophets talk about stillness because then you explore the peace of God, and then you find this connection, this sameness,” Simmons said. “This idea of sameness is what we’re exploring. Musicians especially get it, as do all artists.”
The Narcicyst served as the host for the concert, with DJ Boo providing the backing beats for all the artists.
Amkoullel, a Muslim rapper from Mali who sang about revolution and democracy, was the opening act. He later ceded the stage to Mandeep Sethi, a Sikh emcee from California. Poetic Pilgrimage, two Muslim women wearing hijab, took the stage next, followed by MC Jin, who spoke about his conversion to Christianity.
All the artists emphasized unity as the theme of the concert.
“We all share love, we all share struggle together,” The Narcicyst said.
Unity was looked upon by all artists as something worth striving for.
“Any time there’s unity, it’s a blessing,” MC Jin said.
Finally, Kweli concluded the concert with his set, which featured songs from his newest album, Prisoner of Conscious.
After the concert, all the performers returned to the stage for a conversation with Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson, who prompted them to discuss the importance of their faith in relation to their music.
“Music is prayer. This is my church, this is my prayer doing this music,” Kweli said.
Dyson asked the artists to reconcile the theme of unity underlying the concert with the various divisions created by religion.
“What I put in my music is just love,” Amkoullel said. “I’m not asking you to be Muslim.”
The artists stressed the ways in which unity is brought about in their music.
“The key is focusing on similarities, not differences,” Kweli added.
Dyson underlined the importance of the concert as he closed the event.
“When I hear this music, I hear power,” he said.
Wednesday’s event served as both part of the conference and as part of the Kennedy Center’s ongoing hip-hop series.
The concert also aimed to showcase a distinctly American style of culture.
“The conversation on culture begins at the Kennedy Center, a place that serves as a national home for the arts in the United States,” Pugh wrote.
Students who attended the event reacted positively to its message and execution.
“I really enjoyed it. First the music was wonderful and really fun. Then the conversation afterwards touched on something I don’t think gets discussed a lot when talking about hip-hop and music in general, in the deeper significance and depth to the lyrics those artists had,” Kieran Halloran (SFS ’14) said.