Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Need for Interfaith Cooperation at Ohio University

It starts with a simple question. What if students of all faiths and traditions took action together to make this world a better place? What if religion was used as a force to unite us and not divide us, at Ohio University and throughout the world? A common value in almost all religious and philosophical traditions is the belief that fulfilling one’s highest purpose comes in the service of others.

This past fall, we asked this very question in an event: the “What If? Speak In.” On November 10, over 70 students, faculty and local religious leaders came to the Speak In (held in Alden Library). After a panel discussion that featured Sikh, Muslim and Christian professors discussing the need for students of all and no faith backgrounds to come together in service, students left the event inspired to create a climate of religious pluralism at Ohio University. Students and faculty shared stories about interfaith cooperation they had seen or heard about throughout the evening, and discussed personal “faith heroes” such as Gandhi who inspire them.

I, along with the rest of the Interfaith Steering Committee, are partnering with United Campus Ministry to spearhead the interfaith movement on this campus. Our goal is to make cooperation among diverse faith communities the new social norm at Ohio University.

We have selected the issue of local and international water pollution to organize around, as we believe that access to clean water is a fundamental human right. This winter and spring, we are going to channel our common desire to serve others by cleaning up local streams polluted by acid mine draining practices and raise money to send personal water filters to Haiti.

My parents converted to the Indian religion of Sikhism before I was born, so I grew up practicing that faith. Though I do not practice Sikhism as rigorously as I once did, I still hold the Sikh faith in my heart. There is Sikh scripture and theology emphasizing the validity of all religious paths, and a central tenet of Sikhism is that there is one truth, but more than one path to God. There are also examples of personal leadership among Sikhs who engaged in interfaith work. One such example is Yogi Bhajan, a Sikh from India who spread Sikh teachings throughout the West. Yogi Bhajan served on various interfaith panels across the country, and met with Pope John Paul II and urged him to bring leaders from all the major faiths together to convene on important issues.

So not only does my faith call me to serve others, not only does my faith call me to respect members of other religions, but my faith calls me to actively work together with others, from all and no faith backgrounds, in an interfaith capacity. I bet that if you think about it, yours does too: whether or not faith plays a large role in your life, whether or not you support organized religion, and whether your hero is the Buddha, Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Muhammad, Dorothy Day, Rabbi Joshua Heschel, or Guru Nanak.

I believe that in order to combat complex and daunting issues on the global horizon such as overpopulation, scarcity of resources, global warming and massive poverty, cooperation and coordination among the world’s religious communities will be absolutely essential. Though there is severe conflict throughout the world today where religion plays a major role, from the Middle East to central Asia, from North Africa to the Balkans, I believe that it is only a matter of time before cooperation among members of different faiths as opposed to vicious conflict becomes the norm.

We are working to demonstrate this for others to follow at Ohio University and at universities across the country, proving to the world that it is indeed possible.

Some of you joined us in asking: What If? last fall. We truly hope that even more of you will help us prove that we are better together in 2011.

Guru Amrit Khalsa is a senior at Ohio University majoring in journalism. She is completing an intensive year-long fellowship with the Interfaith Youth Core, an international nonprofit organization that builds mutual respect and pluralism among young people from different religious traditions by empowering them to work together to serve others.

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