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Fizza, Julia, and I are looking forward to this semester at Hofstra and we invite you to check back in over the course of the coming months to see what’s happening at Hofstra!

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Interfaith Leadership Institute Discusses Religion and 'Faitheism'

Diana Gonimah writes in The Daily Pennslyvanian (The University of Pennsylvania’s newspaper) about the Interfaith Leadership Institute that took place on the UPenn campus.

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Take a look at this video to see which events and initiatives students have promoted on their campuses.

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The third topic of the institute was action.  As leaders in training, we brainstormed and learned about the keys to building a successful Better Together campaign on Hofstra’s campus.  First, Fizza, Julia, and I identified our existing resources:

Next, we decided that we would like to begin raising awareness on our campus and fostering relationships between faith and non-faith groups for a combined service effort.  We will meet at the beginning of the fall semester to discuss the possibilities with other campus leaders.

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To learn more about Chris and his discovery of interfaith leadership, check out this video!

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Of all the conference speakers, I was most intrigued by Chris Stedman.  Chris is an atheist committed to interfaith work.  In other words, he is a “faitheist" and he has written a book entitled Faitheist:  How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious which will be released on November 6, 2012. 

Chris is one of a body of non-religious individuals who would rather build relationships with, challenge, and learn from people of faith as opposed to denounce followers and their pursuits.  In exploring interfaith work, I had not considered that atheists, secular humanists, and the like would be included.  I am grateful that Chris shared his story because he taught me that non-believers are an important component of the discussions and service work.

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Here’s just one example of engaging at the ILI.  A group of students and I attended a Wiccan new moon ritual called the Esbat and we were free to ask questions after the ritual was complete.

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After taking the time to reflect on our own stories, we then shared our stories with one another.  These exchanges were easily my favorite part of the institute because all of the participants were moved to share and ask questions with genuine eagerness.  I have always liked the bumper sticker slogan “COEXIST.” 

However, these interactions were more than coexistence or tolerance - they were opportunities to state your beliefs, challenge your assumptions, and grow from the personal testament of another.

Apart from the conversations that naturally arose over meals, during coffee breaks, and on the walks from session to session, I most thoroughly enjoyed “Speed-Faithing.”  This exercise is reminiscent of speed-dating but, instead of asking questions about one’s hobbies and interests, we asked questions about one’s faith or non-faith beliefs and his or her motivations to serve. 

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In our group sessions, we brainstormed and listed a few reminders about forming a space that encourages respectful and engaging discussions.  Here are our reminders:

  • one mic, one diva
  • use “I statements”
  • step up, step back
  • respect opinions
  • ask compassionate questions (i.e. questions with open-ended answers)
  • ouch…oops - respectfully explain why a comment was offensive
  • Vegas rule (what is said here stays here, including technology)
  • listen generously
  • follow up
  • be yourself
  • exercise empathy
  • be willing to learn

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One of the first steps to becoming an interfaith leader is to develop and share your story, your voice.  Thus, two of the training sessions focused on storytelling.  During these sessions, we were encouraged to recall why it is that we are compelled by interfaith action.  Here’s an excerpt from my story:

In the Spring semester of my junior year at Hofstra I took a class entitled “Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest.”  The professor allowed us to explore our own approved topic for a series of papers and I chose to investigate the use of the phrase “spiritual, but not religious.”  At that time I identified as such.  However, I wanted to know more about the reasons why one might choose to explicitly exclude religion from his or her spiritual sense of self.  

In order to draw conclusions, I interviewed over two dozen members of the Hofstra community including students and administrators.  I was shocked when so many people responded to my search for participants.  Each interview taught me something insightful about the individual with whom I spoke.  Collectively, the interviews taught me that faith and non-faith stories are commonly hidden and shared with few (if at all).  That is, many of the participants spoke to me as though they had not ever shared their story because religion and politics are the topics we strategically avoid in everyday conversation for fear of offending our peers and colleagues.  

This realization coupled with the fruitfulness of my discussions helped lead me to recognize that interfaith dialogue is important for the speaker and for the listener.  As of now, I identify as a Seeker.  I possess an inclination to believe in Something though I know not how or even whether to describe It.  I believe in the interconnectedness of all things.  I believe in the experience of searching.