Eboo Patel speaks about faith and diversity

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By Shayna Han

On Tuesday, the Presidential Forum on Diversity hosted Eboo Patel. Patel’s lecture was titled “Acts of Faith: Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Global Religious Crisis.” He is the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Corps and part of President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

Patel explained his threefold approach to interfaith understanding:  voicing your values for interfaith cooperation, engage with others and acting together.

Patel began to explore interfaith respect and understanding in more depth and from many religious perspectives. He also shared his observation that much religious dialogue today is “poisoned speech,” because it is spoken by people who are venting vitriol about religion, instead of people who want to build one another up, to engage with one another. He spoke of acting together, exemplified in particular by the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. He shared an example, when, during the Selma Civil Rights March, Rabbi Joshua Heschel and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. walked side-by-side.

Attendees included local Schenectady residents and people from other colleges. Shilpa Darivemula ‘13 said, “I feel a lot of commonalities in religions, and a core sameness we all share. Like Eboo said … there’s a sameness that can create this beauty.” Talking about interfaith dialogue and the pursuit of it, Darivemula continued, saying, “I feel like sometimes we write it off when it gets too difficult.”

Director of Campus Diversity and Affirmative Action Gretchel Hathaway explained on bringing Patel to campus, “It’s part of education. If we don’t educate our students to understand diverse thinking, diverse religion, diverse theology, diverse futurality, then we have missed the mark on what we really should be doing here.”

Patel commented on Union’s interfaith legacy, saying, “I think this is an inspiring place … you have two central parts of this college’s past of interfaith cooperation.” He touched upon Union’s founding by different religions, which may not have agreed in certain religious matters, “but they agreed on a social matter: educating people.” He then said, “You have that [historical] tradition, then you have people living that tradition out,” and spoke about Union’s current interfaith endeavors, including Union’s Year of Religion and the Presidential Interfaith Campus Challenge.

Patel concluded, “If you don’t write the next chapter in the history of interfaith cooperation, nobody else is going to do it. And it’s not going to write itself.”

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