East-West Interfaith Seminary
Online Global Program
The Story of Interfaith
What is the history of Interfaith?
Interfaith Ministry arose from a long historical tradition. Contrary to conventional thinking, people of different faiths have always intermingled and intermarried. King Ashoka, a Buddhist sovereign of India, invited members of all spiritual traditions to share their wisdom and learning. King Solomon welcomed foreign guests, including the African Queen of Sheba, to discuss spiritual truth. During the Islamic Empire of the Middle Ages, Jews, Christians, pagans, as well as Muslims, prospered and created together one of the most peaceful societies in human history.
The birth of the modern-day Interfaith movement took place at the 1893 Parliament of the World ‘s Religions in Chicago where for the first time in history religious leaders and teachers from around the world met. Swami Vivekenanda, steeped in the Indian tradition of accepting all worship communities, called for universal unity of the faithful. The seedlings of Buddhist and Yoga philosophy, now significant branches of our American religious tree, were first planted at the Parliament. Old and new spiritual traditions have flourished in this country ever since.

In the 20th century, with easier travel and improved communications, religious leaders increasingly held discussions and conferences. Pope John XXIII's call for ecumenical spirit and action in the early '60s energized the Interfaith movement. Inspired by this growing Interfaith activity, a group of Interfaith pioneers, led by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, Swami Satchidananda, and Brother David Steindl-Rast, set forth 30 years go to engage the American people in Interfaith conversation.

Upon returning to New York, Gelberman and company discovered their association had inspired members of their own congregations, who now wanted to worship together in Interfaith services. By 1980, the need for trained, educated Interfaith ministers became clear. Who would lead Interfaith congregations? Who would consecrate marriages between people of different faiths or people with eclectic spiritual beliefs? Who would speak out for peace, when violence was so often enflamed by one religious group pitted against another? And thus, the New Seminary was created in New York to train and ordain Interfaith ministers, and today more than 2000 serve all over the world.

How did Interfaith Seminaries come into being?

With the aim of further opening Interfaith Ministry to the world, Rabbi Gelberman requested Rev. Aaron Zerah, a graduate and ordainee of the New Seminary, to initiate a new school centered in California. In 1995, the Interfaith Seminary, the second school of its kind, began offering an Interfaith Ministry and Spiritual Counseling Program leading students to ordination as Interfaith Ministers. In 1997, Dr. Katherine O'Connell, a Clinical Psychologist and College Educator, received her ordination from Interfaith Seminary in Santa Cruz, California. She helped to redesign the curriculum for Interfaith Seminaries in collaboration with Rev. Aaron Zerah who founded the west coast branch of the New Seminary called Interfaith Seminary. When he relocated to Canada in 2001 she became head of Interfaith Serminaries. In the late nineties when her students requested that she found an Interfaith Ministry program with a special focus on ancient and modern healing traditions and thus East-West Interfaith Seminary was created.

East-West arose to meet the needs of those people who felt called to do healing work and ministry combined. Because of this special need we created a program designed to meet that need under the Interfaith Seminaries umbrella to be run by Rev. Dr. O’Connell.She decided to make the program online so that in the true spirit of Interfaith it would have no boundaries or limitations.

Currently there are several wonderful Interfaith Seminaries throughout the world training Interfaith Ministers who carry on the Interfaith philosophy. East-West is unique in that it is the only one that is a fully online, one on one, individualized program.  

East-West Seminaries is a member of the World Alliance of Interfaith Clergy, the professional organization of Interfaith Ministry, and the Universal Order of Interfaith.

About the Chancellor   


Katherine O'Connell whose Buddhist name is Pema Khandro, meaning Dakini or Angel of the Lotus Family, embodies a deep and rare wisdom.

A professor of Western Psychology and Chinese Medicine, Pema is a natural teacher with immense clarity and loving kindness.

She inspires people with warmth, depth and compassion. She also serves others as an Interfaith Minister and the Chancellor of an international distance-training program in Interfaith Ministry and Spiritual Counseling.

She is an international speaker and author of two books and numerous articles. Her work has received international recognition in major print, radio and television venues including the New York Times, Irish Times, Wall Street Journal, Parade Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle. She served as a former presidential alcoholism policy advisor to President Carter.

In December of 1999, she led an Interfaith Truth and Reconcillation Service at the Parliament of the World's Religions in Capetown, South Africa, and currently collaborates in peace-building efforts throughout the world.

As an international keynote speaker, she has shared the podium through the years with such pre-eminent authors and healers as Dr. Larry Dossey, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Dean Ornish.

Having Celtic and American Indian/First Nations ancestry, Pema is moved to help preserve the ancient wisdom and indigenous healing practices of all peoples worldwide. In addition, she contributes time and energy to the protection of endangered sea life, especially the Orca Whale.

Pema serves on non-profit boards devoted to peace, multicultural and Interfaith understanding. She is dedicated to living her dreams and helping others to realize and live theirs as well.

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