Most people avoid political or religious debates at the Thanksgiving dinner table, yet Monday’s Interfaith Panel demonstrated how handling these discussions respectfully can actually prove enriching and not at all controversial.
The Muslim Student Association hosted its annual Interfaith Panel that involved student representatives from various religious organizations on campus. These students shared basic facts about and authentic experiences with their religion; the student associations (abbreviated SA) included:
Muslim SA: Dr. Mikidadu Mohammed (Professor of Economics and Business Administration) and Zoya Waheed ’22.
Catholic SA: Holly Kapp ’20 and Angel Montelongo ’21.
Hindu SA: Anjana Chowdiah ’21.
Jewish SA: Alexandra Gill ’20 and Adrian Spalding ’23.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF, non-denominational): Erin Adams ’20.
ACtivators (Presbyterian): Addie Pederson ’20.
Religious Studies Professor Dr. Jeremy Posadas moderated the two-hour event, posing questions from “What are the most important elements that define your religion?” to–what I found most intriguing–“What’s a common misconception someone could have about your religion?”
Zoya Waheed asserted that Islam is a peaceful religion, defining her religion as “. . . a submission to god’s will.” Meanwhile, according to Holly Kapp, people often mistakenly assume Catholics “. . . worship saints and the Virgin Mary. We venerate them and pray that they would intercede for us, but we only worship Christ.”
Regarding Hinduism, Anjana Chowdiah stated that while Hinduism is polytheistic in a small facet, the word pantheism better describes the religion. She said claiming Hindus worship “a million gods” belittles her religion. She also tackled the claim that Hindu scriptures are myths by arguing that archaeological evidence exists to validate the scriptures.
Alexandra Gill said that Jewish people, despite the misconception, do not believe in a heaven or hell but rather support the idea that more than one way to the afterlife exists. For Christianity, Erin Adams debunked claims that Christians see themselves as morally superior and that their lives after accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior become perfect.
Professor Posadas made clear that the Interfaith Panel’s purpose was “. . . not to figure out what religion is true but rather to understand all religions. Religions don’t all have to be the same to learn something from them, nor do they have to be different,” which became the night’s central message. I think we should consider–are we really a diverse campus if we unify all religions? If we make diversity a marker of Austin College’s success, would it not make sense to acknowledge that all religions believe they are the true religion, which would open the door to more discussions that would express such diversity? On the other hand, can Austin College exist as a diverse campus if people believe their ideals are superior?
After the panel, MSA co-presidents Mahaa Siddiqui and Sanya Rehman said, “We had an amazing event with more than 50% attendance and were very grateful for the opportunity to show the religious diversity on campus! We hope that students learned a lot about these religions and hope to do another event like this in the future!”
Professor Posadas also appreciated the event and praised the panel for doing “. . . a really good job of presenting all religions . . . We made the decision to form the event so that the audience could hear diversity.” For next year, he would like to see the panel talking to each other during the event, which will be held in the newly renovated Wynne Chapel!
“We won’t apologize for having a cross on the Chapel,” said Chaplain Director Dr. John Williams. “[At the same time,] the chapel is a place where all students can live out their authentic self.”
If you’re interested in majoring or minoring in Religious Studies, Professor Posadas strongly encourages you to consider this degree: “The US has more religious diversity than ever before, so in any career, you will encounter people of different faiths. Studying all religions will help teach you how to be respectful of religious differences.” Another reason to consider this degree is that “[l]earning about other religions enriches your own spiritual journey because each religion has its own wisdom.”
I can’t think of a better time to encourage civil discussion than the week before we go home to our families and friends for Thanksgiving dinner!