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Professors discuss faith diversity

Jen Rowling | Friday, February 4, 2005

Three professors of varying faith backgrounds participated in a religious diversity discussion Thursday sponsored by the Senate Committee of Diversity Affairs.

Asma Afsaruddin, a professor of Arabic and Islamic studies, said she finds her students eager to learn about other religions.

“There is an attempt to understand what different faiths are about,” she said.

Similarly, economics professor Amitava Dutt explained his students are constantly questioning moral issues concerning consumption and happiness. He feels this inquisitiveness creates a comfortable atmosphere for non-Catholic students at Notre Dame.

Afsaruddin encouraged students of other faiths who do not feel comfortable to become proactive and establish groups with other students who have similar interests and ideas.

Elliot Bartky, program of liberal studies professor, questioned the seriousness of Catholicism at Notre Dame. As a conservative Jew, Bartky said he would be very upset if he were Catholic and witnessed students looking to other faiths. In addition, he questioned having to take only two religion classes in order to fulfill the requirement set by the University. Bartky is often surprised at the limited knowledge Catholic Notre Dame students have of their own religion.

Bartky added he would send his daughter neither to Notre Dame nor to a primarily Jewish school like Brandeis University. His focus does not lie in the religion of the school, he said, but rather the culture within the school. Since Bartky believes the Jewish faith is not only a religion, but also a way of life, the lifestyle of students at both public universities and Notre Dame would undermine this faith.

According to Bartky, there would be one way for Notre Dame to draw Jewish or Muslim students.

“You would have to bring Jews or Muslims who would want to give up faith,” he said. Bartky also said he believes a religious Jew needs to pray with fellow Jews.

International student Lindsey Lim agreed with Bartky.

“Catholicism is only skin-deep here,” she said. “It is not all the way through.”

She spoke of everyday happenings such as the type of clothing, viewing of certain television shows, and conversations that do not mirror the belief system of the Catholic Religion. She did attribute a portion of this to the American culture.

Afsaruddin disagreed completely.

“I was surprised you don’t think there are a lot of students who take religion seriously,” she said. “My experience has been the opposite; they are questioning faith … they are branching out.”

Tommy Forri wondered if the conservative Catholic would be welcome at Notre Dame. If the University as a whole practiced deeper Catholicism, he said, the other religious backgrounds would feel more comfortable in the community.

Afsaruddin disagreed and felt a non-Catholic religious student could practice his faith at Notre Dame. A Muslim student, she countered, could pray on his or her own and visit a mosque in South Bend.