George Rupp Shares His View of Faith

George Rupp has been president of the International Rescue Committee since July 2002. As the IRC’s chief executive officer, Dr. Rupp oversees the agency’s relief and rehabilitation operations in 25 countries and its refugee resettlement and assistance programs throughout the United States.  In addition, he leads the IRC’s advocacy efforts in Washington, Geneva, Brussels and other capitals on behalf of the world’s most vulnerable people. His responsibilities regularly take him to IRC program sites in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Before joining the IRC, Dr. Rupp was president of Columbia University. During his nine-year tenure, he focused on enhancing undergraduate education, on strengthening the relationship of the campus to surrounding communities and New York City as a whole, and on increasing the university’s international orientation. At the same time, he completed both a financial restructuring of the university and a $2.84 billion fundraising campaign that achieved eight successive records in dollars raised.

Prior to his time at Columbia, Dr. Rupp served as president of Rice University, where in the course of his eight years applications for admission almost tripled, federal research support more than doubled, and the value of the Rice endowment increased by more than $500 million to $1.25 billion.

Before going to Rice, Dr. Rupp was the John Lord O’Brian Professor of Divinity and dean of the Harvard Divinity School. Under his leadership, the curriculum of the school was revised to address more directly the pluralistic character of contemporary religious life. Further developments included new programs in women’s studies and religion, Jewish-Christian relations, and religion and medicine.

Born in New Jersey of immigrant parents, Dr. Rupp has studied and conducted research for extended periods in both Europe and Asia.  He was awarded an A.B. from Princeton University in 1964, a B.D. from Yale Divinity School in 1967, and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1972.  He is the author of numerous articles and five books, including Globalization Challenged:  Commitment, Conflict, and Community.

  • Transcript



Question: How has Christianity shaped you?

George Rupp: Well, I think religious communities are extremely important as ways of reinforcing individuals, commitments, and identities and that will continue… that continues to be the case and will continue to be the case.  Whether there is a rising tide of secularism as some argue or a rising tide of insurgence of religion worldwide as others argue.  I think depends on very much on which country we look at.  I think if we look at the broader sweep human history, then the… it’s clear that the outer layer is Europe and America and so far as Western Europe from the enlightenment on and the United States in so far as it has followed that pattern and has imperfectly followed it.  For the rest of human history, religion has always been a dimension of people finding their identity and their affirming values and I think into a significant degree that is happening worldwide now.  The most visible form of it is Islam in which it’s clear that Islam is playing a major geopolitical role that it hasn’t for some centuries but it’s not only Islam, it’s also clear that religious insurgence is evident in another communities as well.  I personally am a Christian whose Christian identity would be disputed by great many Christians and I guess I could tell you a story about that.  In 1969, 1970, I spent a year in Sri Lanka studying Buddhism and my Buddhist conversation partners were convinced that… what define a Christian was that a Christian believed in God as a being outside the world who created the world, number 1 and number 2, that a Christian believed in… that every individual has an immortal soul.  And when I told them that I didn’t believe in either of those propositions but considered myself a Christian, they said, “Well, that’s impossible.  You can’t be a Christian unless you believe the God outside the world who created the world and an immortal soul.”  Now, many Christians would agree that those very important for defining Christianity so my kind of Buddhize Christianity or Buddhist-influenced Christianity is an odd combination of affirmations but one which I feel quite comfortable and in which both some Christians and some Buddhists would consider me suspect.