Chautauqua Institution is excited to present a snapshot of our themes for the 2024 season.
2024 Season: June 22–August 25
Week One • June 22–29
The Evolution of the Modern Presidency
Like the world around it, the United States has undergone profound transformation since its founding. Has the office of the American presidency been similarly transformed since its conception in 1789? Shifting and increasing partisanship, coupled with growing responsibilities and consolidated power of the Executive Branch, prompt us this week to situate ourselves in the texts defining the creation of the American presidency. We will trace our history to learn what and whom have complicated those original concepts, how they evolved, and whether a new way of thinking about the presidency should be considered.
Interfaith Lecture Theme – Race and the American Religious Experience
Race remains a primary dividing line in American society. Religious practice can serve to reinforce those divisions, or to break them down and unite people around shared commitments. How does race intersect with American religious experience across traditions individually and at both the communal and the institutional level? What can we learn about religion through a lens focused on racial inequity, and what can we learn about the construction of race from an examination of religious history and sociology? What insights can religion offer for racial reconciliation and social transformation?
Week Two • June 29–July 6
The AI Revolution
Artificial intelligence has loomed large in cultural consciousness for more than a century, primarily relegated to speculative works of fiction. The technology is now seeing exponential growth and adoption, accelerating the need for answers to questions posed by novelists and scientists — questions of ethics, of law, of nature. With AI no longer niche and imagined but mainstream and real, what will we do with the tools it offers us for efficiency and creation? How do we balance risk with opportunity? Can artificial intelligence evolve into artificial humanity, or can it allow for humans to be more human?
Interfaith Lecture Theme – Religion’s Intersections: Interdisciplinary Imagination with Science, Technology, and AI
Like all human enterprises, religious traditions are influenced by their intersection with other disciplines; in our 21st-century context, this includes significant impact from science and technology, including the arrival of mainstream applications for artificial intelligence. How does religion respond? What might this new form of machine learning mean for our understanding of ourselves, our universe, and the divine? Speakers from disciplines as distinct as engineering, ethics, and psychology will weigh in on the implications and potential of emerging technologies.
Week Three • July 6–13
What We Got Wrong: Learning from Our Mistakes
The earth isn’t flat, nor is it the center of the universe. Diseases aren’t caused by an imbalance of humors. Asbestos, as it turns out, isn’t the best building material. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a whole lot more we’ve gotten wrong throughout our history. In this week, we turn with both candor and curiosity to our past, pinpointing the moments and ideas we can now say emphatically and categorically were misguided, incorrect, or flawed. We look at the psychology of personal decision-making, and the reflective introspection and humility that happens when we change our minds. Finally, we take the same lens of hindsight and apply it to our present, considering the thought experiment: What will future generations say we’re getting wrong now?
Interfaith Lecture Theme – Ethics and Meaning-Making Beyond Faith
Religion is only one framework for ethical meaning-making, and often other paradigms are more prominent, accessible or influential. As the number of religious “nones” continues to grow, how will secular ethics nurture meaning-making in our collective lives? Where do people turn to address ethical challenges when faith is not a vital category in their lives? This week’s theme will explore the secular dimensions of ethics and human values and will feature non-religious and post-religious perspectives.
Week Four • July 13–20
Eight Billion and Counting: The Future of Humankind in a Crowded World
In November 2022, the world’s population reached 8 billion people — the most of us ever alive at the same moment in our world. That milestone of human development and growth came just 11 years after the previous billion mark, which itself came 12 years after the one prior. While the trend of accelerating growth is projected to plateau, even taper, with a slowing growth rate of humankind, we are still faced with unprecedented strain on our shared resources, both natural and created. What does this mean for our planet and our people? We look for ways to not just survive together, but thrive together — beyond borders and geopolitical constructs, to ensure that every child of the human family can flourish.
Interfaith Lecture Theme – World Religion and a Shifting Population
While we consider the implications of our growing global population for climate, human rights and civil society, it is instructive to consider the changes in the religious landscape that result from a shifting population. While in the West, religiosity is on the decline by most measures, across the globe we see vibrant and growing religious movements. Together we will learn about the largest and newest expressions of world religion, examine the implications of extremism, and see some of the creative expressions of spirituality that are emerging in light of globalization, interconnection, and social change.
Week Five • July 20–27
Our Greatest Challenges (That We Can Actually Do Something About)
The challenges facing our world and our country are many in number and significant in degree, but we are not powerless. Just as there are countless concerns before us, so too are there countless ways to address them. From the top-down policies of elected leaders to grassroots community measures, some of America’s greatest problems require a “yes/and” approach of big and small actions. In this week, we will be guided by experts and nonpartisan polling to determine what our greatest challenges are, what we can agree upon, and what we can do about it.
Interfaith Lecture Theme – Spiritual Grounding for Social Change
Religious faith has energized movements for social change and human thriving across time. We will unpack the historic connection between faith and social action and consider the future of faith-based movements for social change. Spiritual nourishment for the work of care, advocacy, and justice is relevant not only to those who already understand their own work in religious terms, but also for anyone who might be hungry for a way to sustain the hard work of activism across a lifetime. We will hear from a diverse group of scholars, practitioners and leaders reflecting on the many ways that spirituality and religious practice can strengthen and support change agents in our complex world.
Week Six • July 27–Aug. 3
Exploring the Transformative Power of Music with Renée Fleming
Celebrated and beloved the world over, soprano Renée Fleming will join us for part of a special week of lectures and performances dedicated to the force music has in our lives. Research has shown that music and the arts can have significant impacts not just on our happiness, but on our health. Long an advocate of this work, Fleming helps launch an interdisciplinary week of music and science, of art and well-being. And acknowledging there is more than one kind of well-being, we look beyond classical music, to the genres of gospel, folk, hip-hop and pop, to examine the power of music to motivate and carry social movements, and enrich our lives in ways innumerate. Music can do more than inspire, soothe and heal — it can transform.
Interfaith Lecture Theme – The Arts: Expressions from the Soul
From the beginning of recorded history, human beings have expressed their spiritual impulses, myths, and worldview through the arts. Whether in visual representation, poetry, music or dance, the soul is central to art, if not in its creation, then in its reception and interpretation. What is it about art that moves the human heart, and how can we understand the interplay of creativity and devotion? Hear from artists, historians, and faith leaders about the connection between the arts and spirituality, and explore the ways art has mediated spiritual expression along your own path.
Week Seven • Aug. 3–10
Wonder and Awe
A Week Celebrating Chautauqua’s Sesquicentennial
We’ve all experienced that which has taken our breath away, to use an expression. Whether some kind of premonition, a spiritual or religious experience, a feat of seeming magic, or something else beyond words, there are moments that leave us dumbfounded and seeking answers where there are no convincing ones. What are wonder and awe, what creates or instills them, and does it matter how we experience them — alone, with others, in reality or in some kind of liminal space? From the infinite to the infinitesimal, we peer at all that situates us on a scale of grandeur.
Interfaith Lecture Theme – Wonder and Awe – Reverence as a Response to the World
The profound experiences of our lives share a common thread. From the birth of a baby to the last breath of a parent, the wonderful and awe-inspiring events of our lives serve as markers on our spiritual journeys, from suffering to exhilaration. We experience wonder over the vast complexity of creation and stand in awe of the terrible power of nature and human cruelty. Faith is often forged through the deep and curious questions of childlike wonder, and tested by the struggle to understand what we experience and observe — that which leaves us in awe.
Week Eight • Aug. 10–17
Water: Crisis, Beauty and Necessity
A Week in Partnership with National Geographic
As an elemental force, water’s reach touches everything. We are mostly water — even down to our bones — and the planet we call home is mostly covered by water. It is vital to life, and to our way of life. And yet, water across the globe is increasingly polluted, increasingly scarce and, in a twist of irony, increasingly abundant, with extreme flooding as the most immediately destructive effect of climate change. While water covers two-thirds of Earth’s surface, by 2025 two-thirds of Earth’s population will live in water-scarce areas. As the world seeks out ever-more creative — and desperate — solutions for access to clean water, what global approaches and agreements can be enacted for equitable access to our most precious natural resource? How can we turn the tide before chances of addressing the global water crisis evaporate?
Interfaith Lecture Theme – Water: A Metaphor for Life
Water is essential to all life, sustaining and necessary for any growth, movement, or thriving. We are nurtured in the water of the womb, and we rely on water every day of our lives to survive. It is no surprise that this results in a powerful association with the holy — water conveys purity, mediates transitions, and serves to remind us of the movement of spirit through our lives. From the Ganges to the Jordan, flowing water plays an important part in many religious traditions, and rituals of purification and offering involving water are part of many practices. How do we understand this essential element, in practice and as a primary metaphor for life?
Week Nine • Aug. 17–25
Rising Together: Our Century of Creativity and Collaboration with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra
“The 20th was the century of communication. The 21st will be the century of integration. Our rapidly developing global community is the most exciting modern reality.” So opens Wynton Marsalis’ notes to “All Rise,” considered the composer’s Symphony No. 1 — a work not just of music, but of life, history, and the joyous power people hold to create art and progress when they work collectively and collaboratively. Where do these moments of translating and transcending difference exist in our society, and what can we learn from them? Where can our journeys, both individual and communal, take us? Backdropped by the annual Chautauqua Food Festival, this week features a keynote address by Wynton Marsalis for the Chautauqua Lecture Series, classes and recitals from the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, and an extraordinary performance on a massive scale of “All Rise” that will see Chautauqua’s very own Music School Festival Orchestra join forces with a full chorus and the legendary JLCO on the Amphitheater stage.
Interfaith Lecture Theme – All Rise: Save Us and Look Beyond
Influenced by Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, this week’s Interfaith Lecture Series will address the spiritual themes of Marsalis’ masterpiece “All Rise.” What does it mean to seek salvation? What power is salvific, and who wields it? And then, what does it mean to look beyond — beyond the suffering and limitations of human life on earth, and beyond the horizon of all we can know or understand? These themes shape our lives, individually and in relationships with one another, and this week will allow us to reflect on their power and our own paths to wisdom.