Building Bridges of Understanding Committee

The Building Bridges of Understanding programs are designed by a committee of religious leaders and practitioners from many different faiths and multiple generations.  Over the past ten years, the committee has worked together to envision and create day-long dialogues, conferences and programs have brought people of all faiths together to learn about and discuss topics as wide ranging as Judaism and social justice, Native American Spirituality, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, domestic violence, peace through the arts, and environmental stewardship.

Members of the committee share a commitment to the cultivation of more peaceful communities through opportunities to explore issues of social concern in dialogues inspired by the lenses of multiple perspectives and inclusive conversation.  Programs are intended to increase awareness of the insights of different faith traditions, enhance appreciation and creation of common ground between people across traditions, and open spaces in which beneficial goals and practical actions can be located and enacted for the good of all.


Many members of the Building Bridges Committee attended the 2013 Tolerance program at Dominican University.

Members of the Building Bridges of Understanding Committee:

Dr. Nahid Angha, Ph.D., is co-director and co-founder of the International Association of Sufism, founder of the International Sufi Women Organization, executive editor of Sufism: An Inquiry, and the main representative of the IAS to the United Nations (NGO/DPI). An internationally published scholar, she is one of the major Sufi teachers, scholars, and translators of Sufi literature today, with over fifteen published books. She has lectured throughout the world, at the UN, at the CPWR in Cape Town, Barcelona, Spain; at the Smithsonian Institute, Compassion conference, Germany, Science and Spirituality, Italy; and was among the distinguished Muslim leaders and scholars invited to gather for the first annual Shakir World Encounters, an Islamic conference of peace in Marrakech, Morocco.

Betsy Bikle is a member of the Community Church of Mill Valley.  Her values arise from a liberal Protestant upbringing, an undergraduate degree in Botany and Bacteriology, a graduate degree in Landscape Architecture/Regional Planning, and more than 30 years with family in Marin, the environmental community, and the Community Church in Mill Valley, United Church of Christ.  Betsy is involved with the Marin Conservation League, Mill Valley StreamKeepers, UCSF Faculty Associates, Mill Valley Affordable Housing Committee. She has been a presenter at past Building Bridges events, speaking about stewardship and the environment, and recognizes her involvement with Building Bridges over the past many years as “very pleasant and enlightening.”

 Soraya Chase Clow, Ph.D. candidate, serves as the Director of Humanities and Cultural Studies at Dominican University of California where she has been teaching since 2004. She has been a Sufi salek (seeker/student) for thirty years in the Uwaiysi Tariqat at the International Association of Sufism under the tutelage of Shah Nazar Ali Kianfar, Ph.D. and Nahid Angha, Ph.D. She is a singer/songwriter in Taneen Sufi Music Ensemble and has performed around the world, most notably at the Nobel Peace Institute in Norway and at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Barcelona, Spain. She is also an artist and naturalist photographer, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of Environmental Humanities in the School of Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco.

Sherna H. Deamer is a member of the Bahá’í Faith in Marin.  She works for the Superior Court of California as manager of the Virtual Self-Help Law Center, one of the State’s 5 Model Self-Help Programs.  Before joining the court, Ms. Deamer worked for 19 years as a writer, editor and project manager at the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, Israel; 5 years for The Cousteau Society (part of the Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau); and 3 years for Psychology Today magazine.  From January 2003 to September 2005, she was religion correspondent for the Marin Independent Journal.  She is Chair of the Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of San Rafael.

Joy Dryden is a member of the Christian Science Church in Novato, CA, and the international Christian Science Church based in Boston.  She was raised believing that her religion was unique and not easily understood by other Christian churches, but over time has found that all spiritual seekers have basic truths that we can agree on and through dialogue with people from other faith.  She says that through this realization her “spiritual life has been enriched…enlightened!”  Joy works as a tax preparer and is an active participant in disabled sports.  She live on a houseboat that floats on Richardson Bay, and loves to kayak from her home and enjoy the bay with all the harbor seals and birds and fish.

Seido Lee de Barros, is a Dharma teacher in the Suzuki Roshi Soto Zen lineage, affiliated with Green Gulch Zen Center. He serves as a Buddhist chaplain at San Quentin prison and is a minister to the homeless and to hospice patients.   Every Sunday for 2 years Seido Lee has led a dozen inmates in the Buddhist practice of meditation, chanting, and discussion of the dharma, the teachings of the Buddha.

David Escobar, Three Nations Indian Circle, has served as an Aide to Fourth District Supervisor Steve Kinsey in Marin County.  He is an indigenous Lenca-Poton and current “green advocate” in the Latino-indigenous communities of the San Francisco Bay Area.  David has been a presenter a Building Bridges programs, where he has shared his experiences growing up in a culture where he was able to learn respectful ways to care for the earth from the elders in his community. He was taught the balance of reciprocity, offerings, and the ritual of “asking” mother earth before taking anything from her. These are teachings that he has instilled in his own children and the community wherein he works.

Leili First, Ph.D., is a student of Uwaisyi Sufism, and a long-time member of the International Association of Sufism and SWO. She has given lectures on Sufism at colleges and universities and presented at the Annual Sufism Symposium and Parliament of the World’s Religions. Leili is a member of the program committee of the Building Bridges of Understanding series. She has published articles in the internationally-distributed journal, Sufism: An Inquiry, and recently completed a Ph.D. in Transformative Studies at the California Institute of Integral Studies.

The Rev. Carol Harris is the Executive Director of Marin Interfaith Council and an ordained Presbyterian minister. Prior to her position with MIC, she served for six years as the Community Advocate with the San Rafael Canal Ministry in San Rafael, CA. She attended college in Pennsylvania and Union Theological Seminary in New York City.  After nine years on staff at Providence Presbyterian Church, seven as associate pastor, she resigned in November 1997 to begin a 11 month personal sabbatical which brought her to northern California.  In September 2000, she received the Diploma in the Art of Spiritual Direction from the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, CA.  Carol married Chris Highland, a published author, teacher and freethinker.  They live in Marin County, California.

Sensei Joanne Mied received two Pure Land Ordinations in Kyoto, Japan, and a Master’s Degree from the Institute of Buddhist Studies, which is part of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley.  She has published three academic papers, one on pastoral counseling of the homeless, another on pastoral counseling of the sick and a third on the lineage of Shin Buddhism. She has been meditating for 45 years.  Joanne is also in her 25th year of practice as a Traditional Naturopathic Doctor.  She lives in Novato with her husband, Ron, and has a son in Santa Rosa, California.

Elizabeth Miller.HeadshotElizabeth Miller
, Ph.D. candidate, is a member of the International Association of Sufism.  She is currently pursuing a doctorate in educational design and integrative assessment methodology.  She has been an educator, facilitator, development professional, and community organizer for over ten years, working with diverse ages and populations in schools and universities, healthcare settings, nonprofits and social institutions.  Her academic and professional research on Integral Ecology identifies more life-giving approaches to evaluation  She has worked with publishing houses, schools, laboratories, medical foundations, businesses, and communities in developing worldview literacy.

Screen shot 2013-03-05 at 10.22.09 PMElizabeth Moody is a long-time member of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church. She is a resident of Marin county, and has been a part of the Building Bridges Committee for many years.


  Nicola Pitchford, PhD, is Dean of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at Dominican University of California. Dr. Pitchford previously served as Associate Vice President and Associate Chief Academic Officer at Fordham University.  She  joined the faculty at Fordham in 1995 as an Assistant Professor of English and received tenure in 2001. She served as Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of English, Co-Director of the Literary Studies Program and then as Chair of the Department of English.  Dr. Pitchford was and raised in Great Britain before living in Los Angeles, and began her academic career as a teaching assistant while pursuing her doctorate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where she became a lecturer in the Women’s Studies Department.

Bob Reynolds and Sally Blackburn are both long-time members of the Community Congregational Church of Belvedere-Tiburon



suzanneSuzanne Sadowsky is the founder of Gan HaLev, the Jewish Congregation in the San Geronimo Valley, and Associate Director of the San Geronimo Valley Community Center. Suzanne was formerly  an Economist with the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics where she managed public information activities and federal-state cooperative Programs in the Western Region. She has a strong life-long commitment to social justice and interfaith understanding. Her spiritual practice is guided by the ethical principles of Tikkun Olam -Repairing the World. She is actively involved in community affairs and has served on the Boards of Coastal Health Alliance and West Marin Senior Services.  She grew up in Brooklyn and is a graduate of Alfred University.  Suzanne is a  proud mother and a grandmother and lives near her children in the San Geronimo Valley.

  The Rev. Carol Saysette, D.Min., Interfaith Counseling Ctr, Bay Area, is an ordained United Church of Christ minister serving a parish for twelve years and working as a Pastoral Counselor and Spiritual Director at SFTS since 1992.  Carol has a deep interest and training in contemplative prayer, discernment, Jungian psychology, dream work, and the lifelong spiritual journey. She enjoys working with person of all ages and backgrounds.

Arthur Kane Scott is Assistant Professor of History/Social Cultures Studies at Dominican University of California.  He ihas been Program leader of Cultural Studies and teacher of history for seventeen years at DUOC.  Specialty areas include Islam, Native American Studies and World History.  He has authored five online courses for University of California, Berkeley Extension, on Islam, US and World History.  His current research interest includes a biography of “Cochise: His Time /Culture,” Big History, Sustainability, and articles on politics of the Middle East and Sufism. In 2002, he was voted “Teacher of the Year.”  Professor Scott has been a member of the International Association of Sufism for fifteen years, and looks upon Shah Nazar Seyyed Ali Kianfar as his spiritual guide /mentor.

Screen shot 2013-03-06 at 8.45.05 AMHarlan Stelmach, Ph.D., joined the faculty of Dominican University of California in 1997.  He currently chairs and teaches courses teaches courses in moral philosophy, medical ethics, and social science and religion within the Humanities Department.  Dr. Stelmach’s began his own graduate work at Harvard University where he received his MA in ethic.  He went on to receive a doctoral degree from the Graduate Theological Union in 1977, in an interdisciplinary program in ethics and social science. During his tenure as a post-doctoral visiting scholar at the Haas School of Business in Berkeley he further developed his interest in business ethics. He was the director of the Center for Ethics and Social Policy in Berkeley for five years.  Dr. Stelmach is president of the Board of the Marin Interfaith Council, co-founder and board member for The Center for the Common Good, and project volunteer for the Latin American Council of Churches.

Swami Vedananda is a senior monk of the Vedanta Society of California, San Francisco. He is well known and respected for his contribution to interfaith dialogues and guiding students in Vedantic philosophy and religion. Before taking vows of sannyasin, he earned a Ph.D. in physics.  Since 1995, he has been leading a small discussion group, sponsored by the Hindu Students Association, at Stanford University, for the study of Hindu spiritual texts and the Sanskrit language.



The Building Bridges of Understanding Series is a cooperative program of the International Association of Sufism and the Dominican University of California Humanities and Cultural Studies Department. Sponsored by and cooperation with Marin faith communities. Partial funding from Marin Community Foundation.


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