“Interfaith is the answer”: the Story of an American Sikh

October 23, 2010

My name is Guru Amrit Khalsa, and I self-identify as a Sikh. I am ethnically Jewish, but my parents (who were hippies at the time) converted to the Eastern religion of Sikhism in the 1970s, before I was born. I was raised in an American Sikh ashram near Washington D.C. During middle school, I spent three years at a boarding school in Amritsar, India, where many American Sikh parents send their children in order to receive an authentic experience in the Sikh religion and to study yoga and meditation. The great spiritual passion and liveliness I witnessed in the Sikhs of India had a profound effect on me; it was unlike anything I had witnessed in the U.S.  I had many intense and beautiful spiritual experiences while I was in India, through meditation and other spiritual practices. Visiting the Golden Temple, the Sikhs’ holiest shrine, led to a deep peacefulness within me, and I often felt a direct connection with God throughout this time in my life.

As countless people tell me, it is rare to meet a “white” Sikh. Growing up, my parents required me to wear a turban when attending religious services and at other activities. The turban, plus my unconventional name, was more than enough to separate me from my peers in ways that I could not overcome at the time. The isolation I felt because of this caused me to feel two contradictory emotions at once: to rip off the turban and have the look of “fitting in” with my peers, and to express a dogmatic version of my faith to affirm my religious identity and my intense connection with God in an environment where no one else seemed to understand. This personal experience caused me to become interested in examining the link between feelings of isolation from the rest of society and leanings toward extremism in religious young people of all faiths who commit violent acts in the name of God. I believe that interfaith cooperation may be just the answer here, in its capacity to allow those of all and no faith backgrounds to come together to promote positive change in their communities and on a global scale, making youth feel part of something as opposed to fringed out, and strengthening their connection with their faith through service to others, as opposed to violence to outsiders.

There are countless examples of theology, scripture and personal leadership among Sikhs actively encouraging interfaith cooperation. Guru Nanak (1469-1539) was the first recognized leader of the Sikh religion. His followers included both Muslims and Hindus, and Guru Nanak is famous for beginning his mission by stating, “There is no Hindu. There is no Muslim.” The primary scripture of Sikhism, the Siri Guru Granth Sahib, incorporates the writing of famous Sufi Islamic authors, such as Kabir. To this day Sikhism recognizes the validity of other paths, and acknowledges that there is more than one path to God. The Siri Singh Sahib (Harbhajan Singh Khalsa, 1929-2004) followed in Guru Nanak’s footsteps, spreading the teachings of Sikh Dharma to people living in the United States. The Siri Singh Sahib met with major leaders of every religious faith throughout his lifetime. He served on the religious panels of many inter-religious councils and forums, and met with Pope Paul VI, urging him to create a gathering for leaders of all world religions to come together in understanding. It is the noble precedent set by Guru Nanak and other Sikh leaders following him that remains in my mind’s eye, and in my heart as the example I wish to follow in the work I do.

I believe that in order to combat complex and daunting issues on the global horizon such as overpopulation, scarcity of resources, global warming and massive poverty, cooperation and coordination among the world’s religious communities will be absolutely essential. It will be impossible for any one group to solve these problems on their own, and a common thread throughout various traditions is the call to serve others. Though there is severe conflict throughout the world today where religion plays a major role, from the Middle East to central Asia, from North Africa to the Balkans, I believe that it is only a matter of time before cooperation among members of different faiths as opposed to vicious conflict becomes the social norm. We can demonstrate this for others to follow, at Ohio University and at universities across the country, proving to the world that it is indeed possible. The time is now. Join the movement, and prove that we’re Better Together.

Guru Amrit Khalsa is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism, with a concentration in world religions and global leadership. She is the treasurer of Interfaith Impact, and is completing a fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core this year, where she will organize large-scale interfaith events and service projects at Ohio University, and promote a climate of religious pluralism via social media outreach.





“Let’s Change the World Together, Instead of Hurting It Divided”

October 19, 2010

Although I do not consider myself to be a religious individual, I do find myself to be extremely passionate about helping others.  In my college career I have had the privilege to learn and partipate in organizations and events that help with both international and local issues.   Over this time I have learned a lot about the missunderstandings that lead to global conflicts and atrocities.  I have learned these past three years that my goal in life is to work with international human rights issues, and I feel a strong pull toward Africa specifically.  I have had the privledge to be a part of organizations such as Invisible Children, UNICEF, and Amnesty International.  I also got to experience local poverty issues first hand when I interned for Good Works’ Walk for the Homeless.  Through these I have found myself to be very sensitive and open-minded to many different people.

Although I don’t participate in a religious practice, I always remain open to learning about different affiliations that are out there.  I think it’s important for them to be able to properly communicate to eliminate missunderstandings and conflicts, and therefore act collectively to do good for those in need.  I find it ridiculous that there are so many wars that go on relating to religious differences.

I wanted to be a part of the interfaith movement because I’ve seen first hand, even in my own family, how religion can tear people apart.

If a diverse group of people can work together, share their beliefs and experiences, and learn from each other a lot more would be accomplished.  An overarching theme among different religions is to follow what you believe in to give you morals and guidelines for how to be a good person in the eyes of what you might be worshipping.  That is a great theme.  That common interest should be remembered as a starting point for how to colaborate with those who may be different from yourself.

My vision for Ohio University would be to see people learning from one another, and becoming more open minded.  From there they can take what they’ve learned and the new relationships they build to make a more effective change in our world for the better both at a local and international level.

MaryBeth Bognar is a senior majoring in communication studies with a focus on public advocacy. She serves as Programming Chair of the Interfaith Steering Committee at OU, and participates in Invisible Children, UNICEF, Amnesty International, and Good Works’ Walk for the Homeless.



“I’m Helping Spread the Ideal of Religious Coexistence Across the OU Campus”

October 14, 2010

After a brief summer internship with the local nonprofit The Athens Foundation, I immediately knew my life would be dedicated to promoting and publicizing the good doings of similar organizations. I quickly jumped on board as the public relations intern at United Campus Ministry, and have since been involved with interfaith groups striving to publicize the grave need for religious pluralism.

I am often surprised I ended up at UCM promoting such evaded issues as religion and social justice, but I am thankful every single day that I did. And now, as the Media Liaison for the Interfaith Youth Core Steering Committee at Ohio University, my gratitude for this opportunity is overwhelming. I’ve been selected to publicize the Interfaith Youth Core movement here at Ohio University, including our fall “What if? Speak In.” This is my opportunity to help spread the ideal of religious coexistence across the Ohio University campus, ultimately leading to what I pray to be a campus more accepting of interfaith values. I may be crazy, but I have a dream that one day religious pluralism will exist, not just on the Ohio University campus, but across this beautiful world that we all call home.

Rachel Hyden is a junior at Ohio University studying public relations. She serves as Media Liaison for the Interfaith Steering Committee, and is the Public Relations intern for UCM: Center for Spiritual Growth and Social Justice.

“Each religious group at OU I have been part of has been isolated from the others”

October 12, 2010

I’ve done a lot of jumping around between religious affiliations. I was raised in the Christian trinity of Protestant, Catholic, and Greek Orthodox. Later, I got into Unitarian Universalism. After that, I became interested in a friend’s blend of faiths, a mix he calls “Zen Druidism.” A little bit of Hare Krishna influence was thrown into the mix as well. These days, I am mostly Jewish, with an emphasis on the “ish.”

I’ve required a lot of room for religious exploration. Unfortunately, I have realized each of the groups I have been a part of have been isolated. Religious groups rarely talk to each other.

This is incredibly unfortunate. I strongly believe there are valuable lessons to be learned from every faith tradition. Individuals are selling themselves short if they cloister themselves in one school of thought.

Ohio University is lucky that such a small town has so many faith traditions present in the community. I hope that by focusing on our similarities, different faith groups (and people without any faith tradition) will set aside some of their barriers and create lasting friendships with each other. We don’t need to agree on everything, but there needs to be dialogue amongst religious groups.

Rachel Whitman is a senior at Ohio University majoring in International Studies with a focus on Russia. She is the Hospitality Officer on the Ohio University Interfaith Steering Committee, and an active member of OU’s Hillel Chapter and the Jewish Women of Ohio.

Interfaith Cooperation at Universities Across the U.S.

October 8, 2010

Check out why Guru Amrit Khalsa and other Interfaith Youth Core fellows across the country think interfaith cooperation is so important right now