University of Rochester

Stokes Named Director of Interfaith Chapel and M.K. Gandhi Institute

November 13, 2007

Allison Stokes, founding director of the Women's Interfaith Institute and a pastor for 26 years in the United Church of Christ, has been named the new director of the Interfaith Chapel and of the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, both located on the University of Rochester's River Campus.

"Allison Stokes has long experience in interfaith ministry that she will build upon in serving the needs of both long-standing and emerging religious groups, and in strengthening interfaith dialogue on campus," said Richard Feldman, Dean of the College. "With her arrival, the College has the opportunity to become a more influential force promoting dialogue, tolerance, and peace in our community and beyond."

Stokes' commitment to interfaith ministry led her to become the driving force behind establishing the Women's Interfaith Institute in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts. Established in 1992, the nonprofit activist organization is dedicated to empowering women of all faiths pursue religious and spiritual leadership roles. The Women's Interfaith Institute in the Fingerlakes was established in 2002 with the purchase of a historic church in Seneca Falls, N.Y.

"It feels providential, as if everything I have done in my professional life to this point has prepared me for this position," said Stokes of the timing as well as the religious and social scope of her appointment. "It is a blessing."

Her work in the interfaith community led to her participation in the Parliament of the World Religions in Cape Town, South Africa in December 1999.

Stokes has also served as Protestant Chaplain at Ithaca College, College Chaplain at Vassar College, Associate University Chaplain at Yale University, and as pastor for thirteen years at the Congregational Church, U.C.C. in West Stockbridge, Mass. She received her master's degree in divinity and her doctoral degree in American studies from Yale.

The Interfaith Chapel was built in 1970 as a signal of University commitment to diversity. As the words above the entrance suggest, it is "an house of prayer for all people" to celebrate their religious traditions and spiritual practices.

The M. K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, founded in 1991 by Arun Gandhi, a grandson of Mohandas K. Gandhi and his late wife, Sunanda, is dedicated to promoting peace and nonviolence in the greater Rochester community and the world. The Institute, for which Gandhi serves as president, relocated to the University of Rochester from the University of Memphis, Tenn. this past summer.

Stokes' newest book about the Abrahamic religious traditions, titled Shalom, Salaam, Peace, is a book about hope and illuminates how competing and exclusive "truth" claims in all religions can generate intolerance and violence.

"It is a genuine inspiration to work with Arun Gandhi and all of the chaplains here, the students, faculty, and community," Stokes said. "A commitment to nonviolence gives hope for a more peaceful and just world, and we need to remind each other of that and build on it."