Some of the speakers from this year's festival.

Some of the speakers from this year’s Festival of Faiths.

After a short time listening to Sarah Reed Harris of the Center for Interfaith Relations talk about this year’s Festival of Faiths, you’re going to want to play hooky from work all week to experience every aspect of the event: TED-style talks, panel discussions, arts performances and more, all addressing the theme “Pathways to Non-Violence.” It’s slated to run May 17-21.

Theologian Richard Rohr called the festival the “Sundance of the Sacred.” When Huffington Post published a list of America’s eight top spiritual sites for travel last year, the Festival of Faiths ranked No. 6. It is funded by private donors, and even though it will likely sell out, it depends upon those donors.

The fact that the festival, which puts response to violence under many different lenses, occurs while the NRA Convention is in town is mere coincidence. Harris said the center had the theme before the NRA announced its event.

Festival of Faiths closes with a Compassion Walk, where attendees walk silently from Actors Theatre to the Ohio River to dispose of the sand from a mandala made by monks — right past the Yum! Center that will be hosting the NRA’s concluding event, a Toby Keith concert. And in thudding irony, the Festival of Faiths’ panel on Black Lives Matter coincides with Donald Trump’s May 20 speaking engagement at the NRA Convention.

festival of faithsFestival of Faiths will be celebrating 21 years, and more than one-third of the expected 630 attendees are from out of town. The center live-streams the event and archives the talks on YouTube, so the annual event has a wide reach.

Every morning begins with a guided practice meditation, each led by a different faith leader, and every event begins with three minutes of silence. Harris conceded the silence can sometimes be “uncomfortable,” but it serves the purpose of centering people and putting them in the moment (as long as they don’t cheat and pull out their smartphones).

Panels include media and the public trust, Islamophobia, Black Lives Matter, and interfaith responses to violence.

Arun Gandhi, grandson of the great spiritual and political leader, will be a guest, as will Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz. The great feminist and activist bell hooks had to cancel due to illness, but Harris promises to replace her with someone “equally great.”

Other speakers include:

  • Karen Armstrong, best-selling author of books on religion and founder of the Charter for Compassion
  • Joan Brown Campbell, interfaith and civil rights leader and associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, one of America’s best-read authors on Judaism and regular commentator on NPR
  • Vandana Shiva, recognized as an “Environmental Hero” by Time magazine in 2003 and expert on sustainable agriculture who has become one of the world’s most visible advocates for women
  • Linda Sarsour, leading advocate for Muslim women and executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York
  • Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners Christian community and New York Times bestselling author, public theologian and speaker

Evenings lighten things up with performances. An event called “Sacred Wisdom through Music” pairs Louisville Orchestra director Teddy Abrams with 14-time Grammy Award-winner Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder and Salman Ahmad, who is a Pakistani musician and former actor who formed Junoon, South Asia’s biggest and longest-lasting rock band.

There also will be “meditation in motion” throughout the event: tai chi, a Mennonite blacksmith literally turning “guns into plowshares” on site, monks making a sand mandala, and an art exhibit.

Festival of Faiths began as part of the fundraising initiative for the restoration of the Cathedral of the Assumption in the heart of the city. The idea was that every religion in the city would contribute an exhibit. Harris said it continued as a series of events that were themed on life experiences like birth, death and coming of age. The following festivals each took their theme from our relationship to earth. Harris said the festival is the beginning of longer discussions and often catapults other initiatives.

The event is May 17-21, and is mostly held at Actors Theatre. Tickets and festival passes are available online. Passes are $247.50, and individual events are usually $25 each, not including the Abrams/Skaggs/Ahmad concert, which costs $125-$150. The events will be livestreamed on the festival website, and people will be discussing the events on Twitter and other social media using the hashtag #sacredwisdom.