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From one new beginning to another, Dr. Farmer readies for move to Ecuador

December 3, 2010

Dr. Ronald Farmer

When Ronald Farmer, Ph.D., first told friends that he was heading to a small university in Orange County to launch an interfaith program that would honor all faiths and eventually be housed in a building sacred to many traditions, the news was met with more than a few arched eyebrows.

You’re going where? To do what? Really?

That was 1997. Today, as he prepares to depart Chapman University and go to Brandman University, where he will develop an online religious studies certificate program, Dr. Farmer, dean of the Wallace All Faiths Chapel and associate professor of religious studies, leaves behind something that no longer raises eyebrows but does turn heads. The Fish Interfaith Center and Wallace All Faiths Chapel are a testament to Dr. Farmer’s skills as both a builder of buildings and of programming, says Marv Meyer, Ph.D., chair and Griset Professor of Bible and Christian Studies, Department of Religious Studies.

“Ron’s contribution has been massive,” Dr. Meyer says. “He built the chapel and the interfaith center and coordinated with a variety of parties to have the magnificent structure that we currently have.”

A Farewell Celebration honoring that legacy is planned for 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 9, in the Wallace All Faiths Chapel. Submissions for a memory book to be presented to Dr. Farmer may be sent to

At the gathering, Dr. Farmer says he plans to do something “rather risky” and is preparing a talk that will “share what I think is the essence of spirituality.” But risk-taking is nothing new for Dr. Farmer. Back in 1997, enthusiasm for interfaith relationships, much less a center that would welcome Wiccans, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Christians and others in the same place, was rare. At that time, MIT was one of the few universities to have such a center, Dr. Farmer recalls. And some in the religious community, both locally and beyond, were not keen to have Chapman create its own.

“I knew there were going to be bumps in the road,” he recalls. “That was pre-9/11. Chapman was so far ahead of the curve, which is what a university should be.”

But support from the university’s founding denomination, Disciples of Christ, was steady and seen as being completely consistent with the tradition of Chapman, which opened in 1861 with a charter stating it would admit women and all races, a remarkable practice for the time.

Today that open-door principle is at the heart of the center’s programming, Dr. Farmer says.  Every event is open to all, and all gatherings are opened with the words, “We’re here to generate light, not heat.” Activities are educational, not opportunities for proselytizing. Differences are acknowledged, but commonalities sought. Detractors are fewer and fewer. In the global post-9/11 environment , interfaith outreach is no longer unusual, he says.

“I think Orange County has become aware of its pluralism and is coming to see it as a richness, not a problem,” he says. “That’s a good thing.”

Now Dr. Farmer is readying for his next good thing. The Brandman move coincides with his and his wife’s plans to build a home in Bahia de Caraquez, Ecuador, where they will be part of a new sustainable development designed to support the region’s organic farming, reforestation projects and cultural heritage.

“If we’re going to buy into something, we want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” he says.

And while they build the house, Dr. Farmer will be building the online certificate program, a new forum for teaching and learning that he calls his “encore career.” He’s excited for the potential online education holds and the ability to connect to students around the world from his new home – perhaps even from the beach.

“Part of the appeal is starting something from scratch again,” he says. “I guess the pioneer spirit is still alive.”

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Kathy Wright permalink
    December 7, 2010 2:07 pm

    Congratulations to Dr. Farmer and best wishes for continued success! His work is a solid testament to Chapman’s commitment to developing the whole person, especially the spiritual dimension of life.


  1. Farewell Ceremony/Reception at Chapman | SoCal Jewish Student Services

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