Learning to Live With Differences: The Example of l’Arche

Sat, 23 Oct 2010 16:00 in Discussion Forums

Where: Education Dialogue Charity, 116 Hyde Road, Ardwick, Manchester, M12 5AR


L’Arche, began in 1964 when Jean Vanier, an ex-naval officer and philosophy lecturer, decided to “do something” for people with intellectual disabilities. Inspired by faith he invited two men to leave the loneliness and frustration of a large institution and come to live with him in a house in Trosly-Breuil, near Paris. This little community grew and new communities grew up, first in France and then abroad. There are now 131 communities in more than 30 continents. People of different abilities, backgrounds and religions live, work learn and celebrate together, seeking to build communities that are sources of life and hope for all their members and for the wider community.

This paper will look at the challenge of difference in community life and at how l’Arche rises to this challenge. I will explore l’Arche’s approach to living with differences of intellectual ability and the understanding of the human person that informs this approach. I will then take a look at how the same principles are applied to living with religious difference in l’Arche communities, notably in Canada and India. As well as referring to personal experience I will draw on the writings of Jean Vanier and of other writers who have been involved with or intrigued by l’Arche.


Before starting her degree Frances spent a year living and working with adults with intellectual disabilities in a l’Arche community in France. This was a wonderful and profoundly educational experience for her and she has often returned to the community to visit and help out. She studied Philosophy and Theology at Oxford University and graduated with 1st class honours in 2008. Having become increasingly interested in understanding other religions and interfaith relations she went on to a Masters degree in the Study of Religions at Oxford, opting for papers on Islam and Judaism. She is lucky enough to be continuing her education as an intern at the Dialogue Society in London, working on DIY Dialogue Manuals and a seminar series on making dialogue effective. She plans to train as an RE teacher and will be starting a PGCE in September 2010, God willing.