Dr. James Finley
It is with great pleasure that we introduce Dr. James Finley as a Keynote Speaker. Jim has been a great friend to SDI over decades now, but it’s been a while since he has been able to join our yearly conference. And what better time than now?
We need to hear Jim’s wisdom and insights as we confront these dark moments we are going through, and recommit ourselves as spiritual directors and companions to composting, distilling, and recognizing Mystical Essence in everything that surrounds us.
Listen below as Jim recounts his experiences with his first spiritual director, Thomas Merton, and as he examines the role of mysticism and contemplation in relation to our calling.
Sr. Lucy Kurien
We are delighted to have Sister Lucy Kurien as one of our two keynote speakers for Essence 2023. Sister Lucy is a deep listener, mystic and activist working for human rights and justice. She epitomizes both healing and love. A Catholic nun from India, she created Maher in 1997 to help destitute women. Twenty-five years later, Maher has helped over 85,000 people through 50 homes offering spiritual guidance, shelter and sustenance. These homes house about 1,000 children, and hundreds of destitute women and men at any one time. At the forefront of Sister Lucy’s efforts has been campaigning for women’s rights and for an end to the acceptance of violence against women. Her organization is caste-free and committedly interfaith; all religions are honored there, and all people respected as equals.
Ilia Delio, OSF, PhD, Founder of the Center for Christogenesis, is a Franciscan Sister of Washington, DC and American theologian specializing in the area of science and religion, with interests in evolution, physics and neuroscience and the import of these for theology.
Ilia currently holds the Josephine C. Connelly Endowed Chair in Theology at Villanova University, and is the author of twenty books. Ilia holds PhDs in Pharmacology from Rutgers University and in Theology from Fordham University, as well as two honorary doctorates, one from St. Francis University in 2015, and one from Sacred Heart University in 2020.
James Stump is Vice President of Programs at BioLogos. He oversees the editorial team, participates in strategic planning, and hosts the podcast, Language of God. Jim also writes and speaks on behalf of BioLogos. He has a PhD in philosophy and was formerly a professor and academic administrator. His books include, Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design; Science and Christianity: An Introduction to the Issues; How I Changed My Mind about Evolution; and The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity.
Cortland Dahl is the Chief Contemplative Officer and Healthy Minds Innovations Research Scientist at the Center for Healthy Minds, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Cortland is interested in exploring the interface between the body, mind and brain, and especially in the question of how various forms of meditation may help us cultivate positive qualities like mindfulness, compassion and resilience.
His current work focuses on studying the psychological and neural mechanisms of different families of meditation practice. He is also the creator of the Healthy Minds program, a well-being training program that integrates insights from scientific research with a comprehensive path of contemplative training.
Cortland has an eclectic background and has spent years studying and practicing meditation in Asia, including eight years living in Tibetan refugee settlements in India and Nepal. He has published numerous collections of translations of classic works on meditation and Buddhist philosophy from the Tibetan tradition. In addition to his work with the Center, Cortland is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Tergar International, a global network of meditation groups and centers.
Michelle Scheidt, Senior Program Officer at the Fetzer Institute, is leading an effort focused on field building and network development among spiritual innovators. She and her advisors are asking: How will we hold onto the rich teachings of our historic faith and wisdom traditions while applying them creatively in today’s time? How will we reimagine roles and institutions as the spiritual and religious landscape dramatically shifts? Join her and Uvinie Lubecki, founder of Leading Through Connection, and advisor to the Institute to learn more about this invigorating body of work.
Mohammed Hamid Mohammed is a senior program officer at the Fetzer Institute where he leads a portfolio of projects that focuses on the relationship between science and spirituality, spirituality and technology, and spirituality and health. Recent projects he is helping shape and manage include a longitudinal global human flourishing study, research on free will, and a mindfulness app that was named in the top three of its class by the New York Times. As part of his pursuit, he has co-authored articles in peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes. His publications include “Communities and Freedom: Transforming Governance” in Why Love Matters: Values in Governance and “Enabling Community and Trust: Shared Leadership for Collective Creativity” in The Foundation Review. Trained in the humanities, social sciences, and human-computer interactions, Mohammed is a philanthropy professional with decades of experience leading research, technology development, and programmatical projects around the world. He has worked in the academic and the corporate sectors before transitioning to philanthropy. Mohammed is an international traveler conversant in various languages, cultures, and spiritual traditions.
Uvinie Lubecki is an organizational consultant and coach who is passionate about designing spiritual practices for secular audiences. She has worked with leaders from over 20 organizations including Macy’s, Johnson & Johnson, GoPro, Volvo Cars, the California Department of Justice, and Google. In 2017, she founded Leading Through Connection, an organization focused on Compassionate Leadership. She currently brings her experience in spiritual innovation to the Sharing Spiritual Heritage project at the Fetzer Institute, where she supports a learning cohort of BIPOC spiritual innovators who are advancing spiritual innovation. Uvinie was born in Sri Lanka and grew up in Nigeria, Jordan and New York. She holds a BA in Neurobiology & Behavior from Cornell University and a MPH from the Harvard School of Public Health. In her free time, she writes young adult fantasy novels. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and feral cat, Norbu.
Rev. Alicia Roxanne Forde
The Reverend Alicia Roxanne Forde serves with the Unitarian Universalist Association as the Director of the International Office. Alicia is passionate about engaging individuals and communities in discerning what they most care about and working alongside others as they seek to enact Love and Justice in this world. She has developed a profound appreciation for self-care, spiritually grounded leadership/organizational development, and the crucial importance of meaningful connections in establishing sustainable lives.
Alicia was born and spent her formative years in Trinidad and Tobago. She identifies as an African-descent, queer, cis-gender female with deep roots in Tobago. She considers herself bi-cultural and is grateful that her formative years – and ongoing education – enabled her to cultivate a transnational feminist perspective. Alicia is a certified Spiritual Director and has a strong interest in health and wellness. When she’s not hiking, you can find her reading, working-out, or walking with her favorite podcasts. She is a graduate of The Iliff School of Theology (MDiv ’03) and currently lives with her partner in Boulder, Colorado.
Dr. Pamela Ayo Yetunde
Photo: Miriam Phields
Pamela Ayo Yetunde, M.A., J.D., Th.D., is a spiritual director, pastoral counselor, chaplain educator, consultant, advocate and artist. She earned her spiritual direction certificate from Mercy Center in Burlingame, her M.A. in Culture and Spirituality from Holy Names University in Oakland, CA, her law degree from Indiana University, and her Doctor of Theology degree in pastoral counseling from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA. Ayo is the author of Casting Indra’s Net: Fostering Spiritual Kinship and Community (2023) and other books, articles, and essays on spiritual care. Some of her recent essays appear in Lion’s Roar and Buddhist Justice Reporter. Her current creative project is Birdsong, a novella-film project about intercultural and interreligious spiritual care. Ayo was the founding director of the Interreligious Chaplaincy Program at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. She can be reached at www.pamelaayoyetunde.com.
Dr. Kelley Alexander
Photo: Miriam Phields
Kelley Alexander (she/her), M.S., Ph.D., is a conflict resolution specialist, ombudsperson, mediator, educator, life coach, trainer, consultant, writer, and co-founder/partner of Center of the Heart, a business dedicated to creating a wellness community that supports the restorative power of the human mind, body, and spirit. She earned her M.S. in Conflict Management from Kennesaw State University and her Ph.D. in Communication from Georgia State University. Over the past 20 years, she has consulted with organizations and coached individuals using evidence-based tools that manage change and transform lives and environments successfully. She recently accepted a co-director position with Be Present, a non-profit organization that created and teaches a transformative leadership model. Kelley is a Siddha Yoga and mindfulness practitioner and is passionate about the research and consulting she does in the areas of spirituality, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and social justice. Her current writing projects include a children’s book about bullying and self-love and a collection of writings about grief and loss. She can be reached at www.centeroftheheart.org.