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Saint Mary’s to host interfaith conference

| Friday, January 26, 2018

Saint Mary’s will host “Building an Interreligious Community,” an interfaith conference on Feb. 2 and 3 in Rice Commons that will allow students, faculty and staff to engage in peaceful religious dialogue.

Sophomore Sophia McDevitt said the goal of the conference is to produce citizens who are better informed about religion.

“It’s through an organization called Interfaith Youth Core, and their goal is to cross religious boundaries because, in building relationships across religious boundaries, the world can become better through more religiously informed citizens,” she said.

The conference will consist of workshops, activities and a panel of experts who will discuss religion, McDevitt said.

“We’ll have a panel of different religious leaders and [students] will get to ask questions and then throughout the weekend, [students] will be put with different groups to work with during the activities,” she said.

Sophomore Alayna Haff said the conference looks to create an environment where students can avidly participate in religious discourse.

“The two-day conference will teach students and faculty how to have better interfaith dialogue and how to have productive, peaceful and beneficial conversations with people that are religiously different,” she said. “We want to create that environment on campus and at other campuses, as the conference is regional and includes Saint Mary’s, IUSB [Indiana University South Bend], Bethel, Notre Dame, DePaul and Lewis [University].”

Haff said she believes the interfaith conference is necessary and timely.

“I feel like communication is so hostile now, with arguments all the time, which is negative, unhealthy and unproductive,” she said. “Interfaith dialogue promotes a healthy and productive way to refrain from that kind of dialogue. You’re welcoming someone else’s opinions in with open arms. Once you learn how to have interfaith dialogue with someone, you learn to have dialogue with anyone that’s different from you with different kinds of views.”

McDevitt said she has always enjoyed the mindful dialogue that interfaith discussions provide.

“I’ve always been interested in the idea of dialogue across religions because I think it is so important to be informed global citizens, especially in our current political climate,” she said. “Too often, incorrect information is spread about people’s religions and that hurts because, as a person of faith, it would hurt me if people misunderstood Catholicism and thought something of me that wasn’t true just because they had misinformation. It’s important to me that we come together and form communities with other religious people so that we are able to support each other. If we don’t support each other, who will?”

Haff said interfaith dialogue has allowed her to feel more comfortable with herself and her religious views.

“Learning about other religions has helped me feel more comfortable about myself and how I feel,” she said. “It’s also been helping me figure out what type of faith I am interested in. I’m learning about myself, about other people and my place in the world. I believe that that’s what interfaith dialogue does for people.”

Students who want to create an open, interfaith dialogue can do so by opening themselves up to people who practice different religions, McDevitt said.

“Get to know people of other faiths, don’t assume you know things about their faith and be wary of what sources you are getting information about religion from,” she said.

The best way to learn about a religion is to listen to those who practice it, McDevitt said.  

“Listen to people,” she said. “If you have doubts about what people of other religions believe, ask someone of that religion. If you’re open, and even if you say the wrong thing, if you’re being truly honest and they can tell that you want to learn more, they are very accommodating. All places of worship are open to all people.”

Haff said unhealthy dialogue is created by the need to assert a difference of opinion.

“When having a conversation with someone who has a different opinion from you, it’s our natural response to then give our opinion, especially if [our] opinion contradicts their opinion,” she said. “This is when the dialogue becomes unhealthy. When someone’s giving their opinion, they’re not always asking for the other person’s opinion.”

The only way to have a healthy and productive discussion is to withhold differing opinions until the very end, Haff said.  

“When your immediate response is your opinion, you don’t learn anything,“ she said. “The only way to learn is to ask them questions, show interest in that person and try not offend that person.”

McDevitt said the goal of this conference, and all future ones, is to encourage an interfaith community.

“We’re hoping to build an interreligious community among young people,” she said. “South Bend is a wonderful place for interreligious dialogue because it has a women’s religious group that has Jewish, Muslim and Christian women in it and a lot of other groups like that. These groups have really been trying to build the attendance of young people so that they’re more informed as they grow older.”

Registration for the interfaith conference closes Friday.

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