Soul Space Interfaith: Celebrating 20 years of Interfaith Dialogue

Chicago’s first women’s organization devoted to interfaith dialogue celebrates 20 years as a leader in the city’s interreligious conversation this fall with a panel discussion highlighting the changes in these discussions since September 11, 2001.The brainchild of Marilyn Gehant, a Catholic laywoman and spiritual director, Soul Space was created in the fall of 1999 to promote interfaith exchange and bridge building as a way to foster understanding and peacemaking among women of faith. It first opened as a small, urban retreat facility in a converted convent space in Rogers Park for women to engage in interfaith conversation.

But after September 11, 2001, securing space became less important than making space for dialogue in various locations across the city. Gehant shifted direction and began to facilitate small-group wisdom circles, midday text reflections and artistic exchanges that took place in women’s homes and houses of worship across the city. At first, participants were mostly Christian and Jewish women. But by the mid 2000s, Muslim women began to attend these small group gatherings, making Gehant’s dream of a coalition for women of the book a reality.

In the spring of 2009, Soul Space hosted its first Sunday afternoon retreat with Muslim, Jewish and Christian speakers focusing on “Women of Ordinary Courage” followed by small, round-table discussions. Approximately 25 women were in attendance that afternoon. The twice-annual retreats have continued, rotating from synagogue to church to mosque and attracting up to 80 women at each event. Retreat topics have reflected on faith in the workplace, creativity, food, the Golden Rule, forgiveness, prayer and the words we use to talk about our faith. Many Chicago interfaith activists have been speakers at these retreats including Mary Ali, Rabbi Andrea London, Tahera Ahmed, Sr. Mary Ellen Coombe and Rohina Malik.

By 2010, Soul Space launched a website and online publication. In 2014, Gehant moved to northern California and named Kismet Sağlam, a member of the board since 2010, as director. Chicago has a unique place in the global interfaith dialogue. At the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, the city hosted Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Jews for a 17-day summit at the first gathering of the World’s Parliament of Religions. According to the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, the meeting was “inspired by the energy, growth, and optimism of an America just beginning to lay claim to a place in the world of nations.” One hundred years later, in 1993, Chicago was the city chosen for a meeting of more than 7000 people for the Parliament of World’s Religions. In the eyes of many of the world’s religious leaders, Chicago had become a multi-religious city.

November’s Soul Space Interfaith summit, “Continuing the Dialogue of Head and Heart: Celebrating 20 Years of Making Soul Space,” will address how interfaith dialogue has changed in the past 20 years. The panel of lay and spiritual leaders will representing Daughters of Abraham, Children of Abraham, Interfaith Youth Core, Turkish Women’s Society, Muslim Community Center Interfaith and Outreach Committee, Beth Emet The Free Synagogue Interfaith Youth Group and Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom. Founder of Soul Space, Marilyn Gehant, will be the keynote speaker. This program is being co-sponsored by the Niagara Foundation, a non-profit interfaith organization. For more information, please visit their website, niagarafoundation.org. This women-only event is open to the public with a suggested donation of $20. 

Continuing the Dialogue of Head and Heart: Celebrating 20 Years of Making Soul Space

Turkish American Society

501 Midway Drive

Mount Prospect, Illinois

Sunday, November 17, 2019

2 – 5:30 pm

                   This is a women-only event. Suggested Donation, $20

In Memoriam: We remember with joy and honor with gratitude three women who founded and grounded Soul Space, and now guide us in spirit: Mary Ali, Judy Pier and Mary Alice Zander, SP.  Each of them shared her faith, questions, wisdom, talents and skills to help build this organization.

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