Tomorrow We Ask What IF…?

Hola to all my Interfaith and Social Justice defenders! It’s here, it’s here– the Wesleyan Asks WHAT IF event is happening tomorrow!!!


What-If_Purple_Transparent.gifwe replaced religious intolerance with cooperation?

What-If_Purple_Transparent.gifwe used our differences to work together and change the world?

Faith commitments inspire people to work to serve and improve their communities. In fact, some of the greatest social action movements of the 20th century like the Civil Rights Movement have been inspired by young people of faith.

Come learn about the “Better Together” Campaign, which empowers students to speak out about the power of interfaith action, mobilizes students from all faith backgrounds (and lack thereof), and sustains service work on campus. There will be a guest speaker, discussion, and FREE DINNER!

When: Monday, Nov. 22, 5-7PM
Where: Daniel Family Commons
Why: because interfaith is awesome!



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WesSpeak – Decoding and Debunking Islamophobia

This was from a while ago (before the panel). Here’s the link on the Argus with comments.

Islamophobia has recently become a prominent presence in the United States. Articles and forums with titles like CNN’s “Holy War: Should Americans Fear Islam?” (ABC, October 3) demonstrate the problems inherent in such fears. To deplore the beliefs and actions of some 1.6 billion practicing Muslims of the world is a dauntingly large undertaking and, frankly, quite an unreasonable one. Fear of Islam at large assumes a monolithic Muslim people and culture, but religions, and especially those that are so complex and pervasive as Islam, are anything but homogeneous. Along with Islam, Judaism and Christianity—Islam’s companions as religions of the book—both encompass a vast range of denominations, each with its own distinct set of practices and interpretations of the sacred texts. Thus, it is no more accurate to assert that all Muslims are the same than it is to assume homogeneity among Christians and Jews.

The anti-Muslim discourse that has pervaded the United States as of late has appeared in news features, protests, Wespeaks, and many other media outlets. In light of these public expressions of discord, we, the Interfaith Justice League, feel compelled to address contemporary American anti-Muslim sentiment, and the confusion from which it is borne. Indeed, a host of misunderstandings have coalesced to form the American brand of Islamophobia that is so prevalent and normalized by the media today.

One of the most prominent American misconceptions about Islam is that Muslims at large pose a terrorist threat. Again, this fear stems from the conception of all Muslims as an ideologically and culturally unified people. While Muslims do feel unified on the one belief that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the last messenger, this belief works primarily to form a foundation for the practice of Islam, from which practitioners diverge due to geographical, cultural, and ideological disparities. That said, the fundamental tenets of Islam foster a largely tolerant and pacifist disposition within the Muslim faith.

The United States has a history of constructing the ‘other’ in American society. Irish, Italian, and German immigrants, blacks, and Latin and Native Americans, among others, have all played this special role in the American sociopolitical landscape. Now, within the mainstream media, Muslims seem to be taking the helm. Each group that has played the role of the ‘other’ role has, within a certain conservative American consciousness, posed a threat to the notions of white privilege and manifest destiny. The idea of Muslims defiling American sacred space, as a few extremists did on September 11, 2001, is intolerable to many. This trepidation is enhanced by a fear of a Muslim takeover of the American way of life. After September 11th, images circulated of New York City’s skyscrapers topped with minarets, insinuating an Islamic takeover of the United States. This notion of a physical takeover stands as a symbol for the more deep-seeded, albeit unwarranted, fear of a displacement of American values with Muslim ones.

The historic fears about immigrants degrading American culture, which mirror the current fear of an Islamic takeover in America, have not come to fruition. Rather, the multiplicity of cultures and peoples in this nation have come together to comprise the complex matrix that is “American culture.” Indeed, while racism remains a widespread problem in our country, cultural differences that were previously seen as insurmountable have been breached in a number of areas. That being said, Muslim and American identities are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the part of the American ethos that makes it so unique is an openness towards outside cultures and ideas.

As activists, we place great importance on the elimination of hate speech against Muslims, and the most direct way to work towards this ideal is to increase Americans’ understanding of Muslim people and cultures. As a part of a larger effort to facilitate Wesleyan’s understanding of the multifaceted problem of Islamophobia in the United States, the Interfaith Justice League will host a panel discussion on the Park51 controversy and Islamophobia in general, this Thursday, November 4th in Shanklin 107 at 4:30pm. Come one, come all, to learn more and help dissipate the injustice of misinformed hatred towards Muslims. We hope that reflection on American perceptions of Islam will foster a broader dialogue on discrimination at large.

Peacefully yours,

The Interfaith Justice League

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Fantastic Islam/Islamophobia/Park51 Panel

A great turn-out at Shanklin 107 last week. Students with plateful of cookies entered an interesting and interactive discussion with Sister Marwa, Professor Elvin Lim (Govt) and Professor Attiya Ahmad (Religion). Each speaker spoke from their profession and experience. In the end, no simple answer or solution was given, but participants were encouraged to use the new knowledge from this panel to form their own opinion and argument. We encourage and challenge you to bring this topic into your daily conversations with friends, professors and family!

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Interfaith Leadership Institute!!!

From October 24-26, Emily, Patrick and I joined over 100 interfaith student leaders and 50 staff allies for the inaugural Interfaith Leadership Institute in Washington D.C. It was an incredible experience and we are really excited to bring what we’ve learned back to campus!! Our weekend included a crash courses on religious pluralism (having respect for religions and non-religions, building relationships, and pursuing common action), developing our own interfaith stories, working with social media, and playing the Better Together game (which included trivia, building bridges with straws, and making creative flyers). On top of that, we also got to go to the White House since the conference was co-sponsored by the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, AND WE MET EBOO PATEL, the founder of the Interfaith Youth Core. He said Wesleyan’s Fast-a-Thon is the model they use and promote because ours is so successful!! Wonderful. Pictures forthcoming 😉

So. What now?? Soon, you’ll be seeing stickers all over campus that say “What IF…” – What will that even mean?

Well. What IF we replaced religious intolerance with pluralism?  What IF we embraced our differences (religious and otherwise) to make us stronger? What IF we worked together to achieve a common goal, regardless of our faith background?

These “What IF…” questions are supposed to make us think, push ourselves, and grow to realize that yes, we are better together. We can achieve so much more if everyone worked together to achieve a common goal. We are about to embark on a year-long interfaith campaign appropriately titled “Better Together.” The campaign works to empower students to speak about the power and importance of interfaith action, working to mobilize students and sustaining service work on campus. Our kick-off event is November 22, 5PM at the DFC!

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Islamophobia and Park 51: The “Othering” of Muslims in America

Refreshments included!

Have you ever had questions about Islam but felt too afraid to ask? Have you ever wondered how 9/11 affected America’s perception of Muslims but thought it was a too “touchy” subject? Have you felt veryconfused lately because of contrasting portrayals of Park51 in the American media?

What better way to have all of your …questions answered than to attend a panel discussion where Wesleyan’s Muslim chaplain, Sister Marwa, Prof. Ahmad (religion department) and Prof. Lim (government department) will respond to anonymous questions submitted by Wesleyan students relating to Islam, Islamophobia, and Park51!The entire student body is invited to attend this important event. Please submit any relevant questions that you would like to ask the panel to by midnight on Nov 3. If you cannot attend you are still encouraged to submit any questions that you might have.

Btw *extreme sarcastic tone* SHOULD Americans fear Islam? -_-

Please do NOT form your opinions JUST on this video…

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Roth recognizes religious diversity in Wesleyan

While we’re on past blog/articles, some Google-ing has brought me an old post by President Roth in Feb 2008. He was also quite surprised at the religious life at Wesleyan, apparently much more active and significant than the infamous Princeton Guide’s award of “least likely to seek god” or whatever. There was a special task force to investigate the religious and spiritual life at Wes. And here (see bold), Roth says that he doesn’t know how to create “the required space”, maybe Interfaith could help him out? 🙂

(of course, I’m not saying interfaith could replace different religious traditions, absolutely not. that’s not the meaning nor purpose of the interfaith movement. What I’m trying to say is that with such religious diversity on campus, interfaith work could create a safe space for these student groups to interact.)

Yesterday I met with a thoughtful and dedicated group of students, faculty and staff who had spent the last several months studying religious and spiritual life at Wesleyan. I had heard about the group even before I started my presidency, and I confess that I was taken by surprise. Wes has a reputation for, as the Princeton Guide puts it, being a great place ‘to ignore God on a regular basis,’ and I suppose I’d bought into that stereotype. But the task force painted a compelling picture of the diversity of religious practices on campus – from a vibrant Christian fellowship to Buddhist House, from an increasingly active Muslim prayer group to the Jewish students who gather for Shabbat. Although I did not think that we needed a Dean of Spiritual Affairs (an early suggestion that seemed only to increase our bureaucracy), I did recognize that religion was playing more of a role for our community than I had realized.

The task force members with whom I met yesterday had some very powerful recommendations for creating a campus climate in which religious practices can become more informed by different faith groups, and in which students of faith can be as open about their beliefs as other groups are about their own political and personal convictions. Although I pushed back a bit because of the institutionalized and theologically justified intolerance that does characterize some major faith groups, I certainly recognize the need for our campus to be open to religious and spiritual expression and practice. And although I don’t yet know how to create the required space, I can also see that we need places for practice that allow members of our community to explore their faiths in an appropriate context. I had started off the conversation thinking that the spiritual life of our campus was a great part of our diversity, and that all the administration had to was to ‘get out of the way.’ Alas, it’s not that simple. Some support could enrich our students’ experience. We’ll find it.

PLUS an even older blogpost on an interfaith sermon in Wesleyan

Yesterday, the rabbi asked Imam Sohaib Sultan, the Wesleyan Muslim chaplain, to join him for the sermon. Since Ramadan has just begun, he explained that his voice might be weaker than usual, since he had not eaten or had water since sunrise. In fact, he spoke quietly and powerfully about his traditions. It was a new year’s gift. It was also a “teaching moment,” time for us to think about how our practices overlap, how they differ, how we can learn from one another. Perhaps Sohaib was “turning,” too.

In a community that so values innovation and experimentation, it is also good to find our traditions thoughtfully explored and thus preserved.

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Argus interview with Father Hal, Wesleyan Catholic Chaplain

So I know this is an article dated Sep 2008, which is more than two years ago. Still I think it’s worth posting on this blog as it shows that the Wesleyan chaplains, and not just the students, also support Interfaith work!

Teaser: There will be guest blogposts from some Wesleyan administration staff very soon! Keep your eyes and ears (and internet) open!

Also, interesting statistics here: 400 out of 600 students in the Class of 2012 said they identify with a religion, while only 200 students who responded to the survey identified as atheist and agnostic. I sure didn’t know about that before!

New Catholic chaplain promotes interfaith work

By Jae Aron, Staff Writer

Father Hal Weidner hopes to collaborate with students in planning religious events for the Wesleyan Catholic community. Ian Park Father Hal Weidner hopes to collaborate with students in planning religious events for the Wesleyan Catholic community.

After two years of publicity searches, active recruiting, and student pressure, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life finally hired a new Catholic chaplain: Father Hal Weidner.

Since relinquishing its ties to the Methodist Church in 1937, the University has been grouped in the Princeton Review with schools that allegedly “ignore God on a regular basis.” On a shelf in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, Christopher Hitchens’ book “God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” is prominently displayed.

Yet despite such indications, 400 out of 600 students in the Class of 2012 said they identify with a religion, while only 200 students who responded to the survey identified as atheist and agnostic, according to Rabbi David Leipziger Teva, the University Jewish Chaplain and Director of Spiritual Life.

“Racial, economic, and geographic diversity are only part of it; religious diversity compliments this,” Teva said. “We live in a world where religious values, good and bad, play a major role, and part of Wesleyan’s job is religious literacy.”

Weidner and Teva are part of an interfaith office team of four chaplains, each of whom sponsors a weekly service and collaborates to sponsor several multi-faith events each year. Every week, 10 percent of the student body participates in religious activities on campus, Teva said.

For the some 300 Catholic students at the University, many of whom fought for a Catholic chaplain for so long, Weidner pledges to provide opportunities for worship, as well as non-academic support.

“This year I’m learning the ropes,” Weidner said. “No matter what I’m interested in doing, if the students are not, it’s not going to happen.”

Long before coming to Wesleyan, Weidner worked as a campus minister at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina. There, the ministers were external to the college (Wesleyan is unique in hiring chaplains as employees of the University) and religious life was not interfaith (they were all Christians). Like Wesleyan, however, the school sponsored ecumenical services. The ministers also met once a week to talk about the Bible, spirituality and social justice, as well as to entertain sponsored inspirational speakers.

With a doctorate from Oxford, three books to his name, and 13 years of experience as a pastor in Hawaii, Weidner was the first candidate that the search committee believed was right to follow in the footsteps of past chaplains Father Loumanzo and Father Cohan. Because of the high demand for Catholic priests in America, with many retiring and few entering the profession, and the difficulty of finding someone who would work on a campus with relatively few Catholics, the search turned into a two-year process.

Weidner’s father was in the navy, so he lived all over the country, from San Diego to Missouri, before finally settling in Hawaii in 1959, when he was 12. Weidner said he didn’t know any Catholics growing up, and he himself was Protestant until he became Catholic when he was in prep school at Punahou, which happens to be the same school Barack Obama attended.

“[Barack Obama] visits his grandmother who still lives in Hawaii, and there was a picture of him body surfing,” he said. “You can tell he’s a Hawaii baby.”

It was in Honolulu, as director of Interfaith, that Weidner learned just how divisive religion could be.

“When I was director there, everyone went to the table, put their cards down, and we looked around to see what cards were the same and linked up with one another,” he said. “Christianity is divided, and so are other monolithic religions. When you look inside of them, my goodness, look at all those differing opinions.”

Also on the shelf in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is a book by Jim Wooten entitled “We are all the Same.”

“People are people,” Weidner said. “My philosophy is, you shouldn’t do anything separate that you can do together.”

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