First thing’s first, you’re probably wondering what on earth interfaith is! Well, interfaith is the ideology that it is better to bring people of different religious, spiritual, and secular beliefs together, rather than keeping them apart. The idea has been around for a while on West Virginia Wesleyan College’s campus, but mostly in the form of Christian Interfaith. What I’m talking about goes beyond Christianity to extend to all Abrahamic religions, Paganism, Atheism, and so forth. Essentially, everyone is invited to the table, no matter what you do or do not believe in.
So how does it work? Well, first, we’re establishing a group on campus designed towards making interfaith cooperation work, and we have decided to call it Interfaith Peace; we’re trying to achieve both community and individual peace through interfaith work. Next, we’re going by the guidelines of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), which was established about fifteen years ago in Chicago. Every year, they encourage college students wanting to learn more about how to bring interfaith to their campus to join them for a weekend in Chicago for the Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI). So, when I was starting to get the ball rolling last semester for this group, these were all the things that I was digging into, learning about and getting connected to in order to make Interfaith Peace successful.
I should point out that I’m one of the few practicing Jews here on campus, and I actually got into interfaith because Dr. Vicki Phillips emailed me and said, “Oh, there’s this thing in Morgantown that’s all about interfaith, and I think your voice would be super important.” So, I as a freshman who is all about social change and how I can bring that about said, “Huh, well, I’m not doing anything that weekend, so sure.” Honestly, looking back now, I’d have to say that there’s only been a few weekends that have really changed me as a person as much as that late February weekend in Morgantown. While I was there, I realised that, as a religious minority, I was forced to often excuse or explain something about my religion to other people, and it made me really wonder how much some of the most knowledgeable people on campus could benefit from more than just some “little Jewish kid” who has a baseline of knowledge about her religion.
What I’m trying to say is, it made me realize how much that little Jewish kid wanted to dive into the religious minority pool of Wesleyan and show everyone that we’re more than a Methodist college full of Christians.
Something that we learned at ILI is that no one can tell your story better than you, especially when it comes to religion. However, just because you can tell your story, doesn’t mean that you’re telling the story of all the people of your background. I can’t explain what all Jews do because I’m one of millions of Jews. I know two pagans, and both of them practice their paganism different. It would illogical to base all of your understanding of different people off of one person’s story, but the point is to remember that everyone has a story. Everyone speaks for themselves…
As the Interfaith Peace student leader, I’m tasked with showing you how to tell your story, how to respectfully listen and respond to others’, and after we learn these things about each other, what to do. There’s a second part of Interfaith that I’ve left out: it’s about how to build bridges and learn about the different ideologies that you’re ignorant of, but it’s also about working with those people.
Something we stress in Interfaith is that everyone has a story, but our values, more often than not, align. The words are different, but the meaning is the same. Almost all faiths and traditions have a similar set of morals such as service, love, taking care of each other, etc. So, if we’re trying to figure out where we can stand together, it makes sense to focus on something that’s close to everyone’s heart. For instance, feeding the poor. Christian, Buddhist, Baha’i, or Atheist, we all agree that children shouldn’t go hungry, even if our reason for believing that stems from different avenues. So, we also are planning service opportunities and are trying to partner with other organizations that are geared towards the betterment of our community.
This is possibly the most basic run-down I can give, and all I can say now is come stop by! If you’re interested, cruise by WVWV’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life or look for the posters that we’ll be putting up around campus. Everyone is welcome, and I hope to see you there soon!