“What If? Speak In” inspires students, faculty and community members

November 13, 2010

On Wednesday evening, over 70 students, faculty and local religious leaderscame to the “What If?” Speak In at Alden Library. Students left the event inspired to come together to create a climate of religious pluralism at Ohio University, and to tackle the issue of local stream pollution from mining. Students and faculty shared stories about interfaith cooperation they had seen or heard about throughout the evening. Students discussed personal “faith heroes” such as Gandhi who inspire them, and about their vision of what changes they would like to see regarding the interaction of different faith communities on campus.

Nathan Schlater, from the Athens-based nonprofit Rural Action, discusses local water pollution due to mining.

Faculty panel members answer questions about why interfaith cooperation is important at Ohio University.

"Speak In" draws large crowd



November 12, 2010

Saleem Almasyabi is a graduate student studying international development, as a Fulbright scholarship winner from Yemen. He is a member of the Muslim Student Association, and the Service Chair for the interfaith steering committee at Ohio University.

What If? Speak-In Preview!

November 10, 2010

What If .. Martin Luther King Jr. rejected Gandhi’s ideas of nonviolence because he was Hindu?”

What if .. we could be the generation of young people building bridges, not bombs? Cooperation, not conflict?

Please join us tomorrow evening (Nov. 10), at 7:30 p.m. in Alden 319, for the What If? Speak In! We will have a guided discussion about the shared value of service in various faith traditions, how YOU can get involved in the interfaith movement, and the chance to hear from guest speakers including the Global Leadership Center’s Greg Emery, Classics and World Religions Professors Steven Hays and Elizabeth Collins, Professor of English and African Studies Amritjit Singh, Muslim Student Association advisor Savas Kaya, and Reverend Evan Young from United Campus Ministries.

Also, there will be free cupcakes, pumpkin bars and brownies!! Join the movement, and help us prove we’re better together.


“Our faith traditions agree on the basic ‘sharedness’ of our humanity”

November 9, 2010

Last night I attended an event called “Islamophobia Forum: Dispelling the Myth.” Quite a crowd—Baker Theater was standing room only, and there were plenty of people standing. Which was encouraging in that so many people are looking for a way out of the oppositional mindset we’ve been fed about religion.

As a Unitarian Universalist, one of the things I bring to UCM is a decidedly interfaith orientation. And thre are some reasons why that orientation makes sense for a 21st-century campus ministry whose history has been progressive ecumenical Christian. Our world is small and getting smaller; and Thomas Friedman tells us it’s getting flatter too—in the sense that more and more people around the globe are gaining access to information and communication technology that permits us all to compete, to connect, and to interact on an equal footing, a level playing field.

In Athens this means that on any given day, each of us is more and more likely to meet and interact with people from other countries, other cultures—other faiths. And as technology pushes the boundaries of community outward, we have to figure out how to be community with the people we share this shrinking world with. This is proving difficult in many areas, not least in religion. Because there’s a very human tendency to understand humans in terms of “us” and “them,” and to pay lots of attention to where and how and by whom the line gets drawn between the two.

At bottom, to draw that line we have to think of people in terms of general characteristics of a group—which means in stereotypes. Our faith traditions, though, agree on the basic “sharedness” of our humanity; in the Abrahamic traditions we call this “being made in the image and likeness of God,” and believe we all are. And what we’ve learned is that the most effective antidote to our tendency to define others by stereotypes is to engage in dialogue—to sit down together and to experience each other in the fullness that only comes with presence and listening.The problem in the case of religion is that our differences seem to go to the very core: who we are, what we’re supposed to do, what happens when we die.

And in some sense they do; but the real problem is in that “othering” move, the one where we say “my faith tells me this truth, which is right, therefore the different truth your faith tells you must be wrong.” And that’s the trouble, right there–we expect our truths to be exclusive, we see them in either-or terms: either I’m right or you’re right. But we live in a both-and world. We live in a world where, when I sit down with you face to face, I learn that underlying our cultural differences is our common humanity; that in your cultural context your truth claims make perfect sense; and that granting that does not diminish the importance or validity of my own truth claims.

In this world my life as I live it is my faith witness, and it is as compatible with the Christian Great Commandment to love God with all one’s heart and soul and mind and strength and to love one’s neighbor as oneself as it is compatible with the pagan injunction against harm, or the Buddhist goal of freedom from the illusion of self, or the various ideals of a raft of other religious traditions.

Why interfaith? Because modern biology and physics teach us we’re all connected, and because these different faiths exist among us, and because ultimately I (we?) believe it’s not just possible, but true to our very nature, for all of us to live in community. What if we ALL embraced this both-and way of thinking, what if we could satisfy our curiosity about each other’s beliefs without tripping over the fear we’ve been handed? I don’t know about you, but that’s a world I want to live in.

Reverend Evan Young, Campus Minister, has been with United Campus Ministries since 2005. He graduated from Methodist Theological Seminary in Delaware Ohio and serves part-time as a pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens. He has played a key leadership role in the interfaith movement at Ohio University over the years, and has, by example, showcased the  key link between social justice projects and interfaith community.

“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.