Written History


Juliet Hollister and Albert Schweitzer, 1960

In 1960 Juliet Hollister (1916-2000) created the Temple of Understanding (TOU) after a realization that the world was in grave danger unless the gifts, wisdom, and insights of religious traditions could be recognized and cultivated to promote positive social change. She is the first woman to have founded an interfaith organization.  Eleanor Roosevelt was among the first to endorse the concept. In the late 1950’s, Juliet traveled the globe, bearing letters of introduction from the former First Lady, in order to gather support from the world’s religious and political leaders. In her letters of introduction, Mrs. Roosevelt wrote:

Eleanor Roosevelt

“May this greatly needed Temple of Understanding come into realization soon, for our world surely needs the inspiration and leadership of such a ‘Spiritual United Nations’.”

That year, Juliet met with luminaries such as Egyptian President Nasser, Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, Pope John XXIII, and Albert Schweitzer –who responded to her request for a meeting with, “Come at once and I will send a canoe.”

After their meeting, Dr. Schweitzer signed Juliet’s travel log “My hopes and prayers are with you in the realization of the great Temple of Understanding, which has a profound significance … The Spirit burns in many flames.”

A few years later, in the December 1962 issue of Life Magazine, the cover article described “’Juliet Hollister’s Wonderful Obsession’ as a mission ‘to draw people together to build a movement embracing all faiths.’”  This article and the subsequent CBS News documentary gave the TOU international recognition and support, affording Juliet access to other luminaries such as Egyptian President Anwar-el Sadat, Carl Sagan and Dr. Hans Kung.


Symbol Of Interfaith Unity by artist Thetis Blacker.

The Tree of Life bears twelve multi-colored fruit hanging from the branches. The leaves
of the tree are olive leaves and symbolize peace and hope. The branches spring from
the one stock, the trunk. Living sap moves through and up the boughs, as indicated by
the undulating serpentine central vein. Four roots of the tree grow from the four
directions of the world, while four rivers of vital water flow outward to all people of the
earth. The fruits of the tree represent different faiths, each linked in harmony. Each fruit
contains the seed of propagation and is surrounded by a circle of white radiance
indicating the sacred nature of faith, hallowed by the ineffable. Above the tree hovers
a dove, holy symbol of peace and love. It roosts in the midst of the tree, bringing divine
blessing upon all in unity.