A need for interfaith

This past weekend, the Chaplain’s Office and the Interreligious Leadership Council (IRLC) hosted the first ever Interfaith Engagement Weekend, designed to bring together students of different religious backgrounds through service activities, texts studies, music, and mixers. These events highlighted a desire in the Yale religious community for closer engagement between faiths, an engagement that students hope to extend beyond the weekend’s activities. Although examples of interfaith dialogue do exist on campus, student leaders across religious groups have expressed their desire to promote more interaction.

The IRLC, a group comprised of leaders of all the faith communities at Yale, planned the weekend’s activities with many goals in mind. According to Sarah Krinsky, DC ’12, and Edie Joseph, SM ’12, co-presidents of Yale Hillel, a primary purpose was to show the Yale community that religious faith traditions here are open and inclusive, with students united in their commitment to social justice and to understanding one another. To Umar Qadri, JE ’11, a peer liaison at the Chaplain’s Office, the weekend was valuable because it let faith communities look beyond their own circles and actively get to know others in their places of worship.

University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said the weekend culminated with a concert in Dwight Chapel. “It was one of the most truly amazing things I have witnessed since arriving at Yale nearly four years ago.” Living Water, a Christian a capella group, and Magevet, a Jewish singing group, teamed up to host a “Beach Party” themed concert, followed by a mixer in Dwight Hall with coffee from Global Grounds. Pleased with the turn-out of the weekend, Kugler hopes that Interfaith Weekend will expand to include even more religious and spiritual communities next year.

Students hope to extend this weekend’s interactions into more sustained cooperation between groups. According to Krinsky and Joseph, “This weekend helped us realize that such goals really can be actualized through the hard work of those at the Chaplain’s Office and many others.” Mohamed Hasan, BR ’14, co-Religious Chair of the Muslim Students Association, agreed that this weekend has given students a good start in terms of interfaith work, and its results encourage students to organize more interfaith event: “Now that we are familiar with each other as members on the boards of different religious groups, we can organize future events, hopefully involving a wider range of religious groups.”

Students found that the Interfaith Weekend fulfilled a very real need for more extensive cooperation among students of different faiths. While older, more established groups can more easily look outward and interact with other groups, Qadri pointed out that religious communities formed more recently must concentrate instead on recruiting students. “Not all groups are large enough to have direct interfaith interaction with other groups,” Qadri noted. This weekend gave younger groups a chance to join. Gulzar added that this weekend aimed to not only bring together the leaders of faith groups, who already do interact to some extent, but also gather the communities themselves. Additionally, religious students unaffiliated with any group got a chance to interact. Sam Greenberg, SY ’13, observed, “Students in different religious organizations know more about each other than students who are not involved. This is an area with room for improvement.”

For many, the outstanding part of the weekend was the service projects held on Friday afternoon. Qadri pointed out that many of the faith communities are already service-based and community-oriented, and this weekend’s events gave students the opportunity to assemble care packages and make sandwiches together. “Something as low-stress as making baby-blankets on a Friday afternoon can have a powerful effect on one’s perception of other people,” Qadri says. Abeer Gulzar, TD ’12, found the small service projects held last Friday to be “very special,” because the projects showed that, “Our common humanity is more important than any identity difference we may have.”

A prime example of interreligious dialogue that already exists on campus is an organization called Jews and Muslims at Yale (JAM), a forum for dialogue between the two religious groups. Greenberg says, “Within the past year since JAM’s been revived, the Jewish and Muslim communities have managed to become very close.” People underestimate the similarities between Jewish and Muslim holy texts, religious laws, and common experiences as religious students at Yale, Greenberg says. They are drawn together not only by similar traditions, but also by an understanding of how important it is to overcome the differences that divide Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. “It warms my heart to see that many Muslim students now feel completely comfortable eating in the Slifka Center, not only because there is kosher meat there, but also because they feel truly welcomed,” Greenberg says.

Although groups such as JAM exist, it is one of the few interfaith groups at Yale. To address this obstacle, the IRLC and the Multi-faith Council were both formed by the Chaplain’s Office to foster better ties among various faith communities. Both these groups meet on a regular basis to communicate with each other and to advertise their events. “What there is not enough of and what this weekend was about was doing rather than talking, and I think it’s a real goal to make these weekends a more regular presence here,” Qadri said.

Yaron Schwartz, PC ’11, a peer liaison for the Chaplain’s Office, believes that fairly strong interreligious dialogue is in place. “I think the IRLC has really facilitated that, making sure there are personal relationships between different religious groups. That being said, we can always take it to the next level.” Hasan added, “Honestly, I feel that a lot more can be done in terms of spreading awareness of other groups on campus, but I think we’re on the right track in realizing the long-term improvements we would like to see.”

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