In a freshmen residence hall setting, one would typically assume residents would not be inclined to discuss deep issues involving faith, spirituality and religion. In media, residence hall life is usually portrayed as partying, playing video games, listening to music and perhaps the occasional studying.
On October 8th 2007, with the invaluable aid of DePaul’s very own Residence Hall Chaplain, Wendy Mathewson, I attempted to stimulate the deep spiritual thought of the freshmen residents living in Seton Hall. As we planned for the program we had low expectations for resident turnout but were confident that the discussion would still flow. On the night of the “Interfaith Conversation” (as it was called it in the flyers) Wendy and I sat in the lounge waiting for residents to show up. Slowly, one resident after another trickled in, curious about what was going on in the lounge and of course eyeing the delectable snacks on the table. By 9:30pm there were fifteen people in the Seton lounge, some sitting in chairs while others sat on the ground eager to eat snacks and talk faith. In the spirit of interfaith dialogue I began the conversation with a quote from the Qur’an:
O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other). Verily, the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things) [49:13].
Still unsure of whether the conversation would be tense or stiff, Wendy and I introduced the topics that we had prepared. Once the discussion began it couldn’t be stopped. On the various issues discussed, the residents all provided astute and insightful comments. The issues ranged from what residents thought about the connotations and use of the word “faith” to anecdotes of personal spiritual and religious experiences. At several points, there were differences in what religion meant on a personal level. Some residents described how religion is their foundation while others depicted a viewpoint that was somewhat detached and less cherishing of their religious background. Throughout the conversation, however, the students showed mutual respect for one another, even in contention. By the time the conversation ended it was almost midnight and the group was excited from such a lengthy, affecting discussion. One amazing aspect of the program was the diversity of the individuals. The participants were comprised of Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, and a few people who did not identify with any specific tradition. The wonderful success of the Interfaith Conversation was a great surprise and, because of its accomplishment, we decided to have an Interfaith Conversation: Part II at the end of January in Seton Hall, which had a similar turnout and an even more eclectic dialogue. It is fair to say that the stereotypes of residence hall life can indeed be broken.
In February, students gathered for dialogue over ice cream on the third floor of the Student Center. If you are interested in participating in an interfaith conversation, contact Wendy Mathewson or talk to one of the Student Interfaith Scholars.
- Ali Al-Sarraf
Interfaith Scholar 2008-2009
Published in the Winter 2008 Issue of the Interfaith Review