Karen Derris, professor of Religious Studies

Embracing global interdependence for survival

Professor of Religious Studies Karen Derris was pleased to see her students respond enthusiastically in the fall of 2016 when she shared chapters of her upcoming publication. Her students’ openness to the study of religions that contradict Western beliefs enables them to grasp the idea of world interdependence, the key message of Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society, published in February 2017.

Written by Ogyen Trinley Dorje, His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa, and edited by Dr. Derris, the book is based on treks she and her students made in 2011 and 2013 to the Karmapa’s home at the Gyuto Monastery in India. The book is edited from insights he shared with Redlands students during those visits.

“Our conversation sessions included a series of 12 topics we discussed over three-and-a-half weeks,” she explains. “Following each collaborative session, the Karmapa would give his own presentation or would go directly to Q & A.” In editing the recorded and transcribed sessions, Dr. Derris says, the final text reads like a monograph. “We wanted the reader to feel involved in the conversation rather than being outside.”

“Interconnect” addresses the growing importance of recognizing how nations, religions and individuals throughout the world are intimately connected and dependent upon one another for survival. “We must move beyond acknowledging interdependence as a reality and must learn to experience it emotionally,” she explains. “We must engage with it so that we are motivated to act in sustainable ways.”

The 30-year-old Gyalwang Karmapa of Tibet is believed to be the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama and was chosen as a little boy from a humble nomad family to become leader of the 900-year-old Karma Kagyu lineage. Guide to millions of Buddhists around the world, the Karmapa is a scholar and meditation master, as well as a painter, poet, songwriter and playwright. Perhaps most important, he is an environmental activist, computer enthusiast and world spiritual leader whose teachings are often webcast live.

Dr. Derris, a scholar of Buddhist traditions in South and Southeast Asia whose work concentrates on the central importance of community in Buddhist ethical and spiritual development, first cultivated a close relationship with the Karmapa in 2002.

Her first co-edited book based on the Karmapa’s insights and teaching, The Heart is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out, was published in 2013. In it, the Karmapa shares his vision for bringing social action into daily life, on a realistic scale individuals can manage through the choices they make every day – what to buy, what to eat, and how to relate honestly with friends, family and coworkers.

Interconnect includes discussions about myriad global issues, including climate warming, migrations and refugees, that illustrate global interdependence. The Karmapa shows readers step by step how they can change the way they use the earth’s resources and continue to improve society. In the process, he helps us move beyond theory to practical and positive social and ethical change.