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Saint Mary’s hosts ‘Campus Conversation’ about global religions

| Friday, February 12, 2016

As part of its “Campus Conversations” initiative, which aims to raise awareness about underrepresented societal issues, Student Diversity Board (SDB) hosted a discussion about global religion at Saint Mary’s on Thursday.

The event featured religious studies professors Stacy Davis and Phyllis Kaminski, but students were also invited to engage in open dialogue directed at learning more about other faiths. Clarifying misconceptions about stigmatized religions promotes acceptance of various beliefs in an evolving world, Kaminski said.

“While a lot of people in the world identify as religious, and currently Christianity in all its forms is the largest single body, Islam will overtake us by the end of this century in terms of numbers,” Kaminski said.

Davis said a recent incident at Wheaton College, in which political science professor Larycia Hawkins was fired after she wore a hijab and claimed Muslims and Christians worship the same god, proves that religion should serve as a unifying, rather than divisive, force. Though Hawkins was a practicing evangelical Christian, she chose to stand in solidarity with persecuted Muslim women, who suffer from misrepresentation in the media, Davis said.

“Religion does create barriers, and so the question becomes ‘How do we not have to give the pessimistic stories, and how can we be positive about things?’” Davis said. “Either we are a people who work in community, or we are not, and if we are not, then we should not pretend that we are.”

Davis said people may think their own beliefs are superior, but this mindset hinders progression into a diverse and accepting world.

“It becomes human nature to say, ‘We have this new idea, so clearly it must be better than everything that came before it.’” Davis said. “The question is whether that argument that sort of worked in the first or second century should work in the 21st.”

As people stop judging and stereotyping, they can acknowledge value in other religions, which will help establish a more inclusive society, according to Davis.

“Perhaps as we mature and develop over time, maybe that idea that we must be right at the expense of someone else is not necessary anymore,” Davis said. “Religion need not be used in simply exclusive terms.”

Davis said her students have expressed more interest in learning about other religions over the past few years, which proves people can grow in understanding and acceptance as they acquire information about unfamiliar beliefs.

“That to me is a wonderful positive sign because it means you can diversify your pool of knowledge while maintaining whatever tradition is meaningful to you,” Davis said.

SDB president Courtney Lamar also said the topic of global religions is especially pertinent at Saint Mary’s, where students embrace diversity.

“I think it is important for students to be accepting of other beliefs because it’s key to being a well-rounded person,” Lamar said. “What would it be like to have everyone be just like you? Boring.”

Lamar said SDB hosted this event to help students celebrate and learn from differences in the Saint Mary’s community and around the world.

“The information that students get can help tear down stereotypes they may have about different religions,” Lamar said. “Through our initiatives, events, projects and open conversations, we are one step closer to making Saint Mary’s a better place.”

SDB vice president Angela Bukur said “Campus Conversations” helps students develop appreciation for other ways of life.

“One of our goals for this semester is to create an inclusive community on campus and to bring together various perspectives to enrich people knowledge about topics facing our world,” Bukur said. “We want students to learn how to respectfully listen to other people, even if they might not agree. We want them to take away a greater understanding of other opinions as well as knowledge about issues facing our world.”

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About Martha Reilly

Martha is a senior majoring in English literature and political science. She currently serves as Saint Mary's editor but still values the Oxford comma in everyday use.

Contact Martha