Last Tuesday, approximately 20 students came together in the College Union to take part in an Interfaith Dialogue. They came from various backgrounds, cultures and beliefs. They ranged from Orthodox Christians to secular Jews, but they came for a common purpose. In a conversational atmosphere and with open minds, they set out to overcome biases and create harmony between faiths. Coming with their own information and views, they left with a new understanding and appreciation for each other's religions.
After introductions, everyone took their seat in the circle and wrote down questions, comments and curiosities about other faiths on pieces of paper. The anonymous questions were mixed up and passed around, one for each participant. Varying in complexity and seriousness, the ideas raised so much discussion that the remaining two hours of the dialogue covered only half of them.
The students present reflected Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths, although it's safe to assume that no two members of the discussion had identical beliefs. The discussion expressed many of the differences between religions, but moreover emphasized the commonalities. Not only did most students share the belief in one god or in similar testaments, but all students found that their beliefs promoted many of the same values and were connected to the culture in which they live. Senior Chioma Chukwu, a coordinator from the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), told Mahatma Ghandi's story of seven blind men in a room with one elephant. The story went that while all could feel the elephant in different ways, all were, in fact, feeling the same thing. Thus, the discussion was held under a context of education rather than preaching, of sharing rather than arguing.
Fatima Johnson, the Coordinator of Multicultural Affairs, said she was "very pleased to know that Geneseo students are engaging in such important dialogue. It is programs like these that can build bridges [instead of] walls."
Some of these bridges came in the form of information. There are many cultural similarities between Christianity, Judaism and Islam, from modern traditions to their respective origins. Even differences in culture and beliefs formed bonds of mutual curiosity among the students. Senior David Toub, an event coordinator from the Jewish student organization Hillel, pointed out that "even though there are all these issues going on in the Middle East and around the world, we can all come together… to find out what connects us rather than what separates us."
While the exchange of information built a foundation, the dialogue was ultimately fueled by the beliefs behind the traditions. No matter how trivial or fundamental, each piece of input created more energy in the room.
The dynamics between all the speakers accomplished the mission of the dialogue itself, which Toub described as, "to break stereotypes and misunderstandings people may have about different religions."
"Battling ignorance is one of the hardest things to do," said senior Rachel Goeler, a member of Hillel, "but it's something that must be done to help stop the spread of intolerance."