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Shanta Premawardhana

Shanta Premawardhana presents the 2013 Presler lectureRev. Dr. Shanta Premawardhana is the President of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education (SCUPE) in Chicago.

Originally from Sri Lanka, he was most recently the director for the program Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches (WCC), a worldwide fellowship of 349 Protestant and Orthodox churches/denominations based in Geneva, Switzerland.

His work there included helping global church bodies articulate a comprehensive theological basis for interreligious dialogue and cooperation relevant for contemporary contexts. He spearheaded a joint initiative between the Vatican, World Evangelical Alliance and the WCC, seeking agreement on a code of conduct for Christian witness. In addition, he worked on the project Accompanying Churches in Situations of Conflict, which encourages churches to stand in solidarity with other churches facing religious persecution. His primary task was to bring religious leaders from such contexts to dialogue tables to seek together ways of resolving conflicts and finding means of reconciliation.

Prior to moving to Geneva, Premawardhana served as the Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ, based in New York. Acknowledging the need for Christian theology to take interreligious dialogue seriously, he organized Special Topics Forums at the American Academy of Religion to address this question with professors of theology and academic deans of US seminaries.


Following seminary education in Sri Lanka and India, Premawardhana arrived in the United States in 1981 for graduate study at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, where he earned his M.A. and Ph.D. in Religion. Continuing to live in the Chicago area, he founded the Chicago Ashram of Jesus Christ, a Christian community with an outreach to South Asian immigrants from many cultural backgrounds and religious traditions. He served for fourteen years as senior pastor of Ellis Avenue Church located in the south side of Chicago where he helped found a local congregation-based community organization, served as Vice President of the Chicago-wide Metropolitan Alliance of Congregations, and later, as a leader in the National Leadership Assembly of the Gamaliel Foundation.

Dr. Shanta Premawardhana teaching at an event  SCUPE

Premawardhana currently serves as a member of the governing board of the National Council of Churches USA, and a member of the board of trustees of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. In recognition of his ministry, the Academy of Parish Clergy named him 1998 Parish Pastor of the Year, and the Islamic Society of North America awarded him the Interfaith Unity Award in 2007.

He has published numerous articles on religion, interreligious dialogue and Christian mission. His most recent, a publication he co-edited with Ariane Hentsch Cisneros is entitled Sharing Values: A Hermeneutics for Global Ethics (Geneva: Globethics.net, 2011).