Inter-religious dialogue speakers discuss faiths

By Marie Wilson

A group of eight speakers from various religious backgrounds met Thursday night to talk about their traditions of sharing their faith.

The session was the third in a serious of inter-religious dialogues planned by the Intercultural Friendship Foundation, a group that works to promote understanding among people of different cultural and religious backgrounds.

“Rather than judge or critique others, we should try to gain a better understanding of religious traditions other than our own,” said the Rev. Axel Gehrmann, minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Urbana, where the dialogue was held.

Speakers representing Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, Mennonite, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist traditions were all given five minutes to sum up their thoughts about sharing their beliefs and proselytizing.

“We have an air of dialogue, not discussion or debate,” said Aziz Yuldashev, graduate student and vice president of the Intercultural Friendship Foundation. “It creates a friendliness not only in how we share, but in how questions are asked too.”

Though the speakers’ views varied, most spoke about inclusiveness and how to become a member of their respective faiths.

Hinduism is a very inclusive religion that believes all religions worship the same divine being, and simply call it different names, said speaker Rajeshwari Pandharipande.

“Religion is the quest to find this unity,” she said.

Speaker Don Nolen said his Presbyterian faith is inclusive in some respects, and exclusive in others.

“Presbyterians still struggle with inclusion,” Nolen said. “Presbyterians need to learn from the spirit of the Hindus.”

Gehrmann urged the audience of about 30 people to listen carefully to all the speakers and think of questions for them.

One man asked if there was anything all the eight faiths could agree on.

“Reality is mysterious, the mystery is good and you should participate in it,” Nolen suggested.

Many of the speakers said religion is about a search for the transcendental, or something beyond existence on earth, but they did not come to a consensus.

“We should focus on the similarities as opposed to the differences we have,” Yuldashev said. “Often, only a few people know how similar our religious traditions are.”

While the speakers enjoyed sharing their views with others, some people are not as fond of discussing their religious beliefs.

Valerie Myers, junior in Engineering, said she does not feel comfortable discussing religion because she does not have very strong beliefs. She said religious issues do not come up in conversations.

Yuldashev believes events like the dialogue series are necessary to bring religion into everyday conversations and promote diversity.

“The dialogue we had today is a perfect example of sharing knowledge of your faith, but it’s only one part,” Yuldashev said. “The bigger part of it is through your actions.”