The Departments of English and Political Science co-hosted an “Interfaith Symposium on Diversity, Community and Justice” last week.
The event was meant to be the first of a series of interdisciplinary conventions on global, intercultural and cross-cultural issues.
The diversity of the panel itself, however, appeared to be confined to the Abrahamic faiths, as neither Buddhists nor Hindus were represented.
A clear evidence of this limitation was that when asked about diversity in their faith groups, only one panelist talked about the diversity of ideas and beliefs.
The rest described the different origins, and races; some talked about the orientation of the members of their group.
Despite boasting an extremely diverse student body, “Alabama’s International University” does not have equally diverse faith groups on campus. Hence, a session promoting discussion on religious diversity is certainly a step in the right direction.
The panelists were unanimous in rejecting violence and hatred and spreading their religions’ message of sacrificial love, but that message is obvious to anyone familiar with the rudiments of world religions.
However, as the event progressed, the panelists were faced with questions that did not receive clear responses.
When asked about their institutions’ stance on the members of the LGBTQ community, while still unanimous in their “love for all humans,” the panelists offered a variety of opinions.
While the Jewish representative declared his institution’s total acceptance of the members of the sexual minority, others sidestepped and offered their “answers” in vague terms with numerous seemingly irrelevant detours as well as unclear examples.
As the symposium approached its end, the questions from the audience seemed tangential to the issues at hand, and the panelists’ answers reflected the same.
At times, the panelists digressed on issues like persecution of Christians and the Catholic Church’s conflict with the U.S. government, which clearly highlighted the need for a moderator.
There were also occasions where the panelists diverted questions by means of circumstantial examples reminiscent of the “whataboutism” characteristic of the political discourse surrounding the 2016 presidential elections.
Given that we live in a time where the political climate has divided the masses along the lines of not just ideas, but often ethnicity, race and religion, such a discourse promoting interfaith dialogue could not have been timelier.
With better organization and moderation, forums like these can help the cultural and intellectual enrichment of students and faculty and further enhance peaceful coexistence in a religiously diverse community.