Interfaith Awareness and Cooperation
As a follower of Christ, I believe His Light is guiding me in a powerful way, one that can free my path of darkness. The worth and priority placed on the Savior, Jesus Christ, is a non-negotiable of Christianity. My fellow Christians and I are called to evangelize and defend the Faith. As a devout Catholic, I had originally viewed non-Christian religions as misinformed and inferior. My perspective changed after coming to Dominican.
I have learned that the process of scholarship and learning is an ongoing dialogue that includes agreements and disagreements alike. While I will hold onto the non-negotiables of Christianity, I seek to know the non-negotiables of other religions. If every religious tradition has a variation of the Golden Rule, then each tradition must have value that is worth sharing with others. I like the metaphor of converging interreligious values as "many paths up the mountain."
We live in a world rich with religious and spiritual diversity. Many college students categorize themselves as spiritual and/or agnostic. Others align themselves with Atheism. Many of these men and women are on nonreligious journeys toward ever-greater meaning in their lives. A different category of students have an engaging sense of religion, many who are of non-Christian faiths.
The Interfaith Youth Core, also known as IFYC, works toward bringing together all people with the hope for dialogue and participation in service. The organization strives to lift up the value of religious diversity for everyone to recognize, whether or not a person is devout and practicing a specific faith. A college campus is the premier environment for interfaith cooperation.
Dominican is among a small group of institutions in the Chicago area that are leading the interfaith movement in Illinois. When the latest Interfaith Leadership Institute(ILI) became official, Jeff Carlson, dean of DU's Rosary College of Arts and Sciences, wasted little time before sending out a campus-wide invitation. The ILI is a conference coordinated by the IFYC and is hosted by colleges committed to interfaith cooperation. Dominican hosted an ILI in June, 2011.
At Loyola University Chicago, three other Dominican students and I attended an ILI during a late June weekend. My peers and I were among students from more than 40 colleges. We experienced three days of interfaith cooperation testimonials, networking opportunities and campus event-planning. A variety of religious and nonreligious traditions were represented at the ILI, from the modern pagan faith Wicca to the Bahai faith,to Universal Unitarians. Catholicism and Agnosticism also were both well represented.
During the ILI, specific religious groups would momentarily leave the conference for communal and individual worship. Students who wished to fulfill worship obligations knew they would forego scheduled activities. Those who had the courage and dedication to do so were an inspiration. I was thankful the Madonna della Strada chapel on Loyola's campus was a short walk from the main conference center.
The ILI alumnae/i panel stands out as a memorable part of the conference. IFYC founder Eboo Patel facilitated questions directed toward the three panelists who reflected on how they are called to interfaith leadership after college. The panelists represented perspectives from United Methodist Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. IFYC stresses that when someone talks about how traditions impact a person's circumstances, that person is speaking from an individualperspective rather than a generalized perspective. The ILI alums spoke of their experiences as leaders within their faith congregations, local communities and workplaces. They encouraged my peers and I to recognize the continuous, relevant work of interfaith leadership.
Come this September, the student movement, together with the Interfaith Cooperation Committee, will make plenty of noise on campus. My fellow leaders and I are on our way toward engaging students, faculty and staff alike in the work of interfaith awareness and cooperation. In a world where the establishment of mosques are disputed and where Sikh temples are mistaken for other centers of worship with dire consequences, interfaith leadership will continue to be relevant.