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Roger W. Heyns Lecture

Roger W. Heyns

Established at Memorial Church in 1994, the Roger W. Heyns Lecture in Religion and Society, is an annual event that features a major speaker focusing on problems and challenges of religion and community. Heyns, who was a resident of Atherton, was a member of the Memorial Church congregation from 1977 until his death in 1995.

Heyns served as chancellor at the University of California at Berkeley from 1965 to 1971. The lectureship honors Heyns on his retirement after 16 years as a board member of the James Irvine Foundation.


2019 Heyns Forum

“Three Faiths, Four Strangers and a Daring Escape”

Wednesday, January 23, 2019, 5:30-7:00 pm

Stanford Memorial Church


Mohammed AL Samawi, born and raised in Yemen, was working with groups promoting dialogue between Muslims, Christians and Jews when the brutal civil war broke out in Yemen in 2015. As a result of his interfaith activism, he began to receive death threats. Reaching out through social media to fellow interfaith activists, four strangers—undaunted by their lack of political or military experience—cooperated with Mohammed to engineer a daring escape. Two of those former strangers, Justin Hefter, Stanford University,’11 and Megan Hallahan, will participate in a panel discussion with Mohammed AL Samawi at the Roger W. Heyns Forum in Religion and Society. They will reflect on the harrowing two weeks which culminated in Mohammed’s escape, the bonds that it created between them, and their ongoing commitment to building bridges between Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Copies of Mohammed AL Samawi’s “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America” are currently available for sale at the Stanford Bookstore and will be available for purchase at the Heyns Forum.

Mohammed AL Samawi

Mohammed AL Samawi is a peace activist from Yemen who is living in the United States. Since arriving in 2015, Mohammed has been involved with various NGOs and interfaith groups. He's worked at the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) in Washington D.C., where he facilitated difficult discussions with religious leaders in the Middle East and encouraged them to question their prejudices. Mohammed is the director and the founder of the Abrahamic House. The Abrahamic House is an interfaith foundation devoted to building a common understanding of one another in order to stand together against hate and fear of “others”.

He serves on the board of the Yemen Peace Project, which advocates for peaceful U.S. policies towards Yemen, and works with the Muslim Jewish Solidarity Committee, a nonprofit that focuses on grassroots social action to build relationships between Jews and Muslims.

He is the author of a riveting memoir, “The Fox Hunt: A Refugee’s Memoir of Coming to America.” The book describes his journey to become an interfaith activist, his extraordinary escape from Yemen and his unwavering dedication to tolerance and understanding.

Mohammed has been sharing the story of his personal transformation with religious groups and academic institutions around the country. He’s been deeply moved by the opportunity to speak with young people in high schools and colleges, and has been overwhelmed by the responses. Mohammed AL Samawi’s first speaking engagement upon coming to America was at Stanford.

Megan Hallahan

Megan Hallahan is the Executive Director of the African Middle Eastern Leadership Project (AMEL) based in Washington, D.C. A California native, Megan has spent the past 15 years leading youth empowerment and peace initiatives across the Middle East, Africa and Europe. From 2012 to 2017, Megan was Director of the Academy for YaLa Palestine, a co-founding organization of the YaLa Young Leaders online movement alongside the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv. Among other roles, Megan led the co-creation and co-management of the YaLa Academy together with a team of Palestinians and Israelis who trained thousands of young people from the Middle East and Africa on conflict management, human rights, peacebuilding, good governance and citizen journalism. Previously, Megan served as Secretary General of the Ara Pacis Initiative (an international coalition of grassroots peacebuilders) and held various positions at The Glocal Forum (a European non-profit that linked conflict-affected communities in Africa/the Middle East with communities in Europe/North America). Megan holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Justin Hefter

Justin Hefter is a peacebuilder who uses technology to bridge social divides. He was the founder and CEO of Bandura Games, a company he created with Israeli and Palestinian partners, which developed video games to connect people from diverse backgrounds and encourage intercultural cooperation. Justin’s passion for bringing people together began as a student at Stanford University (Public Policy ‘11), where he worked to build bridges between the Muslim and Jewish communities. Seeing the incredible power that people have to overcome their differences and develop meaningful relationships, Justin was inspired to amplify the message of peace he experienced as a student to people in places of conflict. In 2015, Justin co-led a successful operation to help the interfaith activist and author Mohammed AL Samawi escape the civil war in Yemen, and he continues to assist those who bravely advance

human rights around the world. In 2017, Justin was part of the international team that launched The AMEL Project, which trains the next generation of human rights activists who advocate for women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and religious freedom in some of the most oppressive regimes across Africa and the Middle East. Justin currently serves on the board of directors for The AMEL Project and AJC San Francisco.


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2018 Heyns Lecture

“Religious and Ethical Dimensions of Artificial Intelligence”

Photo of The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi

Director of the Ethics Initiative at the MIT Media Lab; President CEO of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT

Thursday, February 1, 2018, 5:00 pm

Levinthal Hall in the Humanities Center, 424 Santa Teresa St, Stanford

The Venerable Tenzin Priyadarshi is an innovative thinker, philosopher, educator and a polymath monk. He is Director of the Ethics Initiative at the MIT Media Lab and President & CEO of The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a center dedicated to inquiry, dialogue, and education on the ethical and humane dimensions of life. The Center is a collaborative and nonpartisan think tank, and its programs emphasize responsibility and examine meaningfulness and moral purpose between individuals, organizations, and societies. Six Nobel Peace Laureates serve as The Center’s  founding members and its programs run in several countries and expanding.

Venerable Tenzin's unusual background encompasses entering a Buddhist monastery at the age of ten and receiving graduate education at Harvard University with degrees ranging from Philosophy to Physics to International Relations. He is a Tribeca Disruptive Fellow and a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.

Venerable Tenzin serves on the boards of a number of academic, humanitarian, and religious organizations. He is the recipient of several recognitions and awards and received Harvard’s Distinguished Alumni Honors in 2013 for his visionary contributions to humanity.


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2017 Heyns Lecture

Professor Alexandra Walsham, Professor of Modern History, University of Cambridge

“Toleration, Pluralism and Coexistence: The Ambivalent Legacies of the Reformation”

From T. J. V. Braght, Het bloedig tooneel, of martelaers spiegel der doops-gesinde of weereloose Christenen (Amsterdam, 1685). "The Martyrs Mirror" described the persecution and sufferings of the Dutch Anabaptists.

From T. J. V. Braght, Het bloedig tooneel, of martelaers spiegel der doops-gesinde of weereloose Christenen (Amsterdam, 1685). The Martyrs Mirror described the persecution and sufferings of the Dutch Anabaptists.


April 20, 2017, 5:00 pm

CIRCLE Common Room, Old Union 3rd floor

One of the enduring myths of the origins of modern liberalism is the tradition of linking the Reformation with the rise of toleration. The notion that Protestantism helped to sow the seeds for advanced ideas of freedom of conscience and laid the foundations for practical arrangements that facilitated the acceptance of religious diversity is part of another resilient paradigm: the story of the Reformation’s role as an agent of progress and as a stepping stone towards the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Approaching tolerance and intolerance not as polar opposites but as dialectially linked impulses, this lecture will underline the intrinsic ambivalence and internal contradictions of the experiments in ‘toleration’ that emerged in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Britain and Europe. It will argue that the real significance of the long Reformation for the history of pluralism lies less in its capacity to provide an intellectual pedigree and a body of legal and social precedents for coexistence, than in the light it sheds on the precariousness of peace and tranquillity in communities fractured by deep ideological differences. More broadly, it hopes to offer insight into the perennial and paradoxical process by which efforts to create conditions in which people of conflicting religious and political creeds can coexist often serve to lay the foundations for renewed outbreaks of conflict and violence.

Photo of Professor Alexandra WalshamAlexandra Walsham has been Professor of Modern History at the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Trinity College since 2010. She has published widely on the religious and cultural history of early modern Britain. Her publications include Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford University Press, 1999); Charitable Hatred: Tolerance and Intolerance in England 1500-1700 (Manchester University Press, 2006); The Reformation of the Landscape: Religion, Identity and Memory in Early Modern Britain and Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2011; joint winner of the Wolfson History Prize); and Catholic Reformation in Protestant Britain (Ashgate, 2014). Alexandra Walsham is a Fellow of the British Academy and of the Australian Academy of the Humanities. She currently holds a Leverhulme Trust Major Research Fellowship for 2015-18 and is the Principal Investigator of the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council project ’Remembering the Reformation’ (2016-19).



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2015 Heyns Lecture

Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising

January 15, 2015

Cemex Auditorium, Knight Management Center

On January 15, 2015, the Heyns Lecture featured Cardinal Reinhard Marx, Archbishop of Munich and Freising who has emerged as one of the Roman Catholic Church’s most influential figures. He currently serves as the head of the German Bishops’ Conference and as President of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences in the European Union. He is a member of the Council of Cardinals, which advises Pope Francis on church governance, and was appointed head of the new Council for the Economy, designed to oversee the Vatican’s economic management. Cardinal Marx has written and spoken widely on economic questions and the contemporary relevance of Catholic Social Teaching; he is the author of Das Kapital: A Plea for Man (2008).

The slideshow below features photos from a session with Cardinal Marx and students as well as the Heyns Lecture.



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Past Heyns Lectures

October 17, 2013

The Adventure of Civility

Krista Tippett, Broadcaster and author

View lecture video

May 1, 2012

Anna Deavere-Smith, Actress and playwright

View Stanford Report article

June 1, 2011

Beauty & Power, Truth & Good: 21st Century Quest

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

View lecture video

February 22, 2010

Religion and Politics in the Obama Era

Rev. Jim Wallis, Sojourners Magazine

View lecture video

January 27, 2009

Acts of Faith: Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Religious Crisis

Dr. Eboo Patel, Interfaith Youth Core

View lecture video

April 18, 2008

Jesus and Judaism: The Connection Matters

Prof. Amy-Jill Levine

Vanderbilt Divinity School

April 25, 2007

Misquoting Jesus: Scribes Who Altered Scripture and Readers Who May Never Know

Prof. Bart D. Ehrman

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

View Stanford Report article

November 4, 2005

The Heart of Nonviolence

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet

View lecture video – scroll to the bottom of the web page to view video

Read lecture transcript

October 13, 2004

Islam: A Short History — and Contemporary Issues

Karen Armstrong

Leo Baeck College for the Training of Rabbis

View Stanford Report article

May 13, 1998

America’s New Religious Landscape: Negotiating Identities, Negotiating


Prof. Diana Eck

Harvard University

April 22, 1999

Revisiting Religious Pluralism

Prof. Bruce Lawrence

Duke University

May 23, 1996

Satan and All His Angels (How Early Christians Came to Demonize Jews, ‘Pagans’ and Heretics)

Prof. Elaine Pagels

Princeton University

October 15, 1997

Christian Conviction in a Pluralist Society

Prof. Maurice Wiles

Christ Church, Oxford