In 1976 Matthew Fox founded the Institute in Culture and Creation Spirituality (ICCS) at Mundelein College in Chicago, Illinois. The master’s program was consciously designed to step out of the overly heady academic pedagogy that dominated in European-based models of education in order to educate all the chakras including the heart. The program, which included many artists as well as scientists and the creation spirituality training, outgrew Mundelein after seven years. Fox then moved it to Holy Names College in Oakland, California where again it thrived.
For ten years at HNC Cardinal Ratzinger as chief Inquisitor and head of the Congregation of Doctrine and Faith (called the Office of the Holy Inquisition until 1965), tried to shut the program down. Ratzinger silenced Fox for one year in 1989 and forced him to step down as director. Three years later he expelled Fox from the Dominican Order and shortly after the program was terminated at Holy Names College.
Rather than disband his amazing and ecumenical faculty, Fox started his own University in 1996 called the University of Creation Spirituality in downtown Oakland. Fox was president and professor and chief fund raiser and recruiter for nine years.
The University of Creation Spirituality housed both a Doctor of Ministry program and a master’s degree program, the latter was accredited through Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado which was a Buddhist school. The alignment between Naropa and UCS was especially appreciated for its bringing together engaged mysticism or spiritual activism, that is, the training of mystics and prophets in the spirit of Christian and Buddhist lineages.
On the UCS faculty were persons from Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Sufi, Native American, goddess, Hindu traditions as well as scientists and ecological and social justice activists and many artists who were highly skilled in teaching “art as meditation” and “body prayer” courses. Such courses were especially important in the pedagogy of UCS (see Matthew Fox, “Deep Ecumenism, Ecojustice, and Art as Meditation,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1995, 215-242.) The story of the experience of teaching at UCS has been told by Professor Charles Burack, PhD, who was a teacher in the program for many years.
The Doctor of Ministry program was based especially on Fox’s book, The Reinvention of Work, in which he lays down the principle of the priesthood of all workers. Martin Luther had talked of the “priesthood of all believers,” but Fox writes about how all people who are doing good work are “midwives of grace” and therefore priests. They need training in mystical practice and prophetic empowerment as well as intellectual deepening of how their particular profession relates to spirituality and practice. Training that is sorely lacking in most professional schools.
The program was amazing in the faculty it attracted and the students it attracted. Over 400 students attended the doctoral program including therapists and activists, doctors, lawyers, business people, clergy, artists, body workers, engineers, social workers. All were looking to connect their work to their spiritual practice and to deepen their awareness of mysticism and prophetic consciousness.
After leaving UCS, its students accomplished and continue to accomplish amazing things, ranging from working in prisons with new perspectives, to starting co-ops on Native American Indian reservations, to authoring books and renewing forms of worship. An engineer named Bernard Amandi started Engineers Without Borders and later co-founded Engineers Without Borders-International, which now has over 14,000 persons in it. Their first mission was to install water pumps in San Pablo, Belize and today over 400 projects are in process in 45 countries and over 225 university and professional chapters exist in the United States alone.
Mel Duncan, a UCS graduate, started the Nonviolent Peaceforce which professionally trains civilian peacekeeping forces from around the world. They have proven effective in such hot spots as Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Romania and Guatemala. Their purpose is to enter conflict zones to protect local civilians from harm and help create space for resolution and reduce or prevent further violence. “Sustainable peace cannot come from the barrel of a gun.” (see www.nonviolentpeaceforce.org).
Sister Dorothy Stang, who returned to the Amazon rainforest on graduating from our program, was a leader among her peasant people in standing up to privileged land owners on behalf of rural workers and in defending the Amazon rainforest. One day she was murdered on a muddy road in the forest by hired henchmen (now in jail) for her heroic work and leadership among her peoples. She regularly wrote the UCS staff of how her creation spirituality education gave her the courage to do her work and remain in the face of many death threats. She is our first martyr.
From ICCS in Oakland, graduate Jennifer Berezan has contributed so much inspiration in her career as a mystical-prophetic song writer and performer including her CD albums Praises to the World, She Carries Me, and most recently In These Arms, A Song For All Beings.
From ICCS in Chicago, Caroline Myss has contributed so much inspiration in her career as healer, workshop leader and author including her New York Times Best Selling Anatomy of the Spirit, Why People Don’t Heal, Sacred Contracts and other books including Entering the Castle and Defy Gravity.
Creation Spirituality Communities is a non-profit started by UCS graduates which assists groups in starting up sustainable communities around creation spirituality principles.
After nine years Matthew Fox and the UCS board turned the university over to a new president and the name was changed to Wisdom University. Unfortunately, the spirit and soul of UCS were not maintained and Fox left the University. Since then Fox has taught at Stanford University, Vancouver School of Theology and Unity Village.
More recently he has taken the amazing pedagogy developed at ICCS and UCS over the years into the inner city where he has adapted it for inner city youth in the YELLAWE program. He has written up the philosophy of the pedagogy in his book, The A.W.E. Project: Reinventing Education, Reinventing the Human where “A.W.E.” stands for Ancestral Wisdom Education.
Fox believes that the amazing response by professors and students alike to the twenty-nine year experiment in creation spirituality education holds profound lessons for the future of seminary education and education in general both for adults and youth. Fox is currently a Visiting Scholar with the Academy for the Love of Learning in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Adventures in Creation Spirituality
Article published by Charles Burack, Ph.D. in Interreligious Insight Volume 8, Number 2 July 2010 pp. 62-74.
I first heard the name Matthew Fox in 1997. Ana Matt, a friend from the East Bay Jewish community, told me that she and her husband had taught several courses at the Institute for Culture and Creation Spirituality. She explained that this was an interfaith Master’s program that Fox had established at Holy Names College in the Oakland hills. Fox had recently been asked to leave the college because of his deeply ecumenical approach to spiritual education. In 1996 he started up the University of Creation Spirituality in downtown Oakland. Ana thought I’d enjoy meeting him and teaching at his new school. Read the rest of this story.