Peace and Disarmament

Back to listNov 6, 2010

Ikeda Forum Explores the Development of the Democratic Spirit

101106x_usa_ikeda_forum.jpgThe Ikeda Center held the 7th Ikeda Forum

On November 6, the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, held its seventh Ikeda Forum, on how to further develop the democratic spirit.

Drawing inspiration from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda's remarks on democracy, found in his message commemorating the first Commencement ceremony of Soka University of America (2005), the forum titled "This Noble Experiment: Developing the Democratic Spirit," explored democracy not as a form of government but as what Mr. Ikeda calls "a way of life whose purpose is to enable people to achieve spiritual autonomy, live in mutual respect, and enjoy happiness." In this message, Mr. Ikeda referred to the effort to achieve democracy as "this noble experiment."


Presenters included L.R. Berger, poet and activist; Virginia Benson, senior research fellow at the Ikeda Center; Sarah Wider, former president of the Emerson Society and professor of English and Women's Studies at Colgate University; Fernando Reimers, Ford Foundation professor of International Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education; Anita Patterson, associate professor of English at Boston University, and Vincent Harding, professor of Religion and Social Transformation at Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado.

The event culminated with a talk from Dr. Harding--currently a dialogue partner with Mr. Ikeda--who said that civil rights such as the right to vote are important, but that this represents only a narrow portion of the motivation for what he calls "the movement to expand democracy." He also stated that those whose freedom had been denied provided the twentieth century's "most powerful manifestation" of the democratic spirit.  He encouraged everyone to remember Dr. King's words: "No social advance rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle."

101106x_usa_ikeda_forum(2).jpgDr. Vincent Harding

The Forum's other presentations emphasized the spiritual and poetic qualities of the democratic spirit. Speaking first, poet and activist Ms. Berger shared several poems, including one by Langston Hughes entitled "Democracy."

Following this, Ms. Benson spoke about the 19th century American poet Walt Whitman's influence on Mr. Ikeda. She noted that the faith in "the equal dignity of all life" that is central to Whitman is also central to the Lotus Sutra. True democracy, Ms. Benson said, must always spring forth from the inherent dignity of humanity, in all its diversity.

Professor Wider, who is also currently a dialogue partner with Mr. Ikeda, shared that poetry excels at calling forth the ideas and insights needed to enrich our world and support the democratic spirit. She cited Mr. Ikeda's dialogue with David Krieger, Choose Hope, asserting that the poetic spirit not only calls forth vital human qualities but helps to preserve these qualities.


Professor Reimers continued with an inquiry into the qualities of global citizenship education and education for democracy. He expressed his hope that education in America would place more emphasis on peacebuilding and the promotion of human rights in the curriculum.

In her talk, Professor Patterson confirmed that many students enter her literature classroom more concerned with its relevance to their career goals than how it might enrich their lives. But through the careful creation of an open and respectful classroom environment, students soon feel free and safe enough to open up and participate in what Ralph Waldo Emerson called "a society of minds." In so doing, said Patterson, "young people learn . . . values needed for the healthy flourishing of civil society."

Click here to view a video of Vincent Harding on the Democratic Spirit

[Adapted from a report from the Ikeda Center for Peace, Learning, and Dialogue; photos courtesy of Marilyn Humphries]