Forum unites religions by purpose of service

Students participate in Building Interfaith Bridges hosted by Interfaith Youth Core in Allen Hall on Thursday. Jenette Sturges

Students participate in “Building Interfaith Bridges” hosted by Interfaith Youth Core in Allen Hall on Thursday. Jenette Sturges

By Amanda Graf

As a missionary with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, Elder Samson, 20, spends his days studying church teachings and proselytizing in the surrounding area. He shares his beliefs with people he meets and offers them a copy of the Book of Mormon, the Church’s scriptural text. Samson has a strong commitment to his own faith, but he is open to finding common ground with people of other religions.

“I’m all for building bridges with other faiths,” he said.

Samson was among the students and community members gathered at 9 p.m. on Thursday in Allen Hall, 1005 W. Gregory Drive, to discuss their shared commitment to serving others. The event, entitled “Building Interfaith Bridges,” was coordinated by Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based organization that is “empowering young people of faith to be leaders in building a pluralist society,” according to the group’s Web site.

Dr. Eboo Patel, University alumnus and executive director of the Core, posed a question to the audience to begin the evening of dialogue.

“What would it look like if humanity did have to share a great house? And keeping the commitment of our individual traditions, we made that house work?” Patel asked.

With that question in mind, the audience broke into small, religiously diverse groups to share their experiences of service. As the participants read quotes from Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jainist, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh teachings, they discussed the scriptural texts’ underlying theme of service. The participants then added their own stories of service to the discussion and talked about the different motivations for reaching out to others.

Hemang Srikishan, junior in LAS and president of the campus group Interfaith in Action, facilitated one of the small groups. After the participants in his group shared individual perspectives, they reexamined the scriptural texts and discussed their new perspectives.

Srikishan encouraged his group to ask, “Where do we go with our profound commonality?”

Patel has been promoting interfaith discourse for the last eight-and-a-half years through Interfaith Youth Core. He graduated from the University in 1996 with a degree in sociology and “the skill of having an idea and making it a reality.” He began the Interfaith Youth Core as a reaction to almost daily news reports about violence between young people of different religions.

“The world doesn’t have to be that way,” he said.

Patel praised the participants for being open to religious pluralism after the small group discussions. He warned the audience that there are people around the world who work to destroy diversity, but said he hopes events like this will spread “the architecture of the house of pluralism.”

Patel said he believes the University can play a large part in what he called “the most important movement of the 21st century.” He said his goal is for the University to become a model of interfaith dialogue and action for campuses across the country.

“This is a campus that is perfect for doing interfaith cooperation,” Patel said. “You have a campus that values diversity and that values youth leadership and it values being a leader, a pioneer, and this is the most important area to be pioneering right now.”