About 70 students gathered in the Daniel Family Commons on Nov. 22 for a speak-in and discussion concerning issues of interfaith dialogue and cooperation on campus, and their relation to social justice and activism. The event, titled “Wesleyan Asks What If?,” kicked-off the Interfaith Justice League’s (IJL) Better Together campaign, part of an international initiative led by the Interfaith Youth Core to promote interfaith social action.
The speak-in featured talks by Andras Corban-Arthen P’11, Director of the EarthSpirit Community and Trustee of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, and students Carmen Yip ’12 and Ali Chaudhry ’12. The talks focused on looking outward and bringing different religions together to work for positive change. Chaudhry discussed the Pakistan Flood Relief Initiative, which has brought together students from diverse backgrounds to work toward raising about $5,500 for relief efforts.
“The main question that comes to people’s minds is, should we keep our faiths and backgrounds out of social activism, or should we actively use them?” Chaudhry said.
The “What If?” event also included small group discussions about students’ experiences with social justice activism and the motivations, such as religious or philosophical beliefs, behind their participation. Students also discussed the state of interfaith relations on campus and the possibilities for future collaboration.
The Wesleyan Better Together campaign will focus on a theme of empowerment through education. It will involve biweekly workshops in which female students meet with middle school and high school girls in the Middletown community to discuss issues related to female empowerment, and organize campus visits for events like female a cappella concerts or meetings with female professors. Since this initiative will primarily only involve about 10 to 15 Wesleyan students, the Better Together campaign will also seek to engage the broader student body through fundraising efforts for the Kibera School for Girls.
“The purpose of this campaign isn’t to teach these girls about religion, it’s to teach them about education, which is a common value in all religions,” said Deena Godfrey ’12, one of the organizers of the speak-in.
During Corban-Arthen’s talk, he discussed his involvement with the Parliament of the World’s Religions, which aims to provide a context for delegates from many religious or non-religious backgrounds from around the world to discuss topics such as political and legal issues, interfaith initiatives, and cooperative fundraising efforts.
“Part of the work of religion in society is to bring out the best in us,” he said. “We are fundamentally good beings. We love our families and we love each other and we want what is best for everyone. We don’t like it when we see pain and suffering. Sometimes we get derailed from doing what we can do because the violence or the negativity in the world seems insurmountable.”
At Wesleyan, religious perspectives are frequently pushed to the side or kept separate from political action, said Godfrey.
“Especially on this campus I think Interfaith is really important because there’s this weird thing of how religion is something which shouldn’t be discussed, and is private, and you don’t tell people if you’re, like, a Catholic, because if you do, people are going to freak out and think that you’re this crazy person,” she said. “A lot of people are educated, but ignorant about religious differences and identities. We’re so tolerant of everything else, except being religious.”
The IJL promotes conversations between students from various religious and spiritual backgrounds with weekly meetings, and also organizes the annual Fast-a-Thon event, now in its fourth year, to raise money for the Amazing Grace Food Pantry.
“I think religious dialogue is really important because every religion has lots of common values that are so inherent and so fundamental to what that religion is about, and I think that that often gets overlooked,” Godfrey said.