A congregation can tell a lot about where a priest is working by the titles of his or her sermons. “Debt Forgiveness or Schadenfreude” and “Strangers and Foreigners” are titles of two of the sermons the Rev. James Walters, chaplain to the London School of Economics, will give as Chautauqua Institution’s chaplain for Week Seven.
He will preach at the 10:45 a.m. Sunday morning service of worship and sermon in the Amphitheater. His sermon title will be “New Wineskins and the Old World.” He will talk about his faith journey at the 5 p.m. Vespers in the Hall of Philosophy.
Walters will preach in the Amphitheater at the 9:15 a.m. morning service of worship Monday through Friday. His topics will include “Of Turbulent Priests and Passionate Pastors,” “The Cold Coming to Europe,” “Strangers and Foreigners,” “Debt Forgiveness or Schadenfreude” and “Was Jerusalem Builded Here?”
At LSE, Walters established the LSE Faith Centre, which works to foster interfaith understanding across a student body from 144 countries.
In the United Kingdom, universities are required to provide the spaces necessary for different religious groups to pray, worship and explore their faith. The center is a place for interfaith dialogue, addressing tensions that increasingly characterize the world students will enter upon graduation. The center also provides a reflective space on a hectic campus for students and staff.
Additionally, the center is home to the LSE Faith & Leadership program, which combines interfaith religious literacy with leadership development.
“To lead successfully in today’s world, it is increasingly clear that you need a sophisticated understanding of religion,” according to the program’s syllabus. “Three quarters of humanity now profess a religious faith. That is set to rise to 80 per cent by 2050. But we’re increasingly aware that religion can be used for the bad as well as the good. The 21st century requires leaders who are sufficiently informed to understand the complex relation of religious narratives to social and political change and relate their own faith commitments wisely to the responsibilities they bear.”
Within the center, the Interfaith Forum generates cohesion between groups on campus, promotes discussing faith in the modern world and between faiths and secular disciplines. It urges collaboration in shared concerns, particularly in the pursuit of justice and peace.
Each year, the Forum sponsors an Interfaith Week and visits local primary schools to promote interfaith understanding. It also sponsors Scriptural Reasoning, a program to study sacred texts together and works with St. Ethelburga’s, London’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, which provides training in conflict resolution.
Walters has a passion for the arts and recently commissioned Christopher Le Brun, president of the Royal Academy, to design contemporary stained glass windows for the LSE Faith Centre called “Desert Window.”
“The desert is a place of spiritual significance in nearly all the world religions,” according to a description of the window on the Centre’s website. “From the ancient Hindu traditions of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan to the origins of the Judeo-Christian tradition at Sinai, the desert has been experienced as a place of profound religious intensity. … [O]ur ‘sacred desert’ is a place of stillness for all people, a place where different religious groups can ‘set up camp’ for a while, but also a place for all to encounter people of other faiths, to hear their stories, to share hospitality and to converse about the issues of the day.”
Walters holds a first class degree and doctorate from the University of Cambridge. In 2012 he published his theological engagement with the work of the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard. As well as his interfaith interests, he is now researching the theology of money.
Walters holds several honorary positions, including chaplain to the St Ethelburga’s Centre. Walters has served as an officer of the British Society for the Study of Theology. He is an associate priest of St George’s Bloomsbury in London and is a regular visiting preacher to congregations that range from Westminster Abbey to inner-city parishes.