Interfaith is for everyone (but especially students!)

Inter Faith week takes place in the UK every November. Its aims are to:

  • Strengthen good inter faith relations at all levels.
  • Increase awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, in particular celebrating and building on the contribution which their members make to their neighbourhoods and to wider society.
  • Increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious beliefs.

There are lots of definitions of interfaith engagement. Some say it has to involve theological dialogue between different religious clerics or academics. Whereas others, including me, argue for a more inclusive definition - suggesting instead that interfaith engagement refers to all interactions between people from different faith and spiritual traditions. This includes every time you say hello to someone on the bus, in the shop, or on your course who holds a different religious worldview from you. In this sense, interfaith engagement is, literally, for everyone. Having said that, intentional and purposeful engagement (aka going beyond that first hello to getting to know one another) can lead to transformational change, where bridges are built and a common humanity is realised. If you want to find out exactly how interfaith leads to this, you can read my chapter in Victoria Turner's book 'Young, Woke and Christian'.

Celebrating Diversity

There are so many reasons why you, as a student, should get involved in interfaith engagement. First and foremost, we are living in a country of rich religious diversity, which is ever-increasing due to globalisation. Not only has religious diversity come about due to migration, but it also through new technologies giving us access to learn about world religions. University campuses are a perfect microcosm of this religious diversity, with students from a variety of faith and spiritual backgrounds living and studying together in one city or campus. Sophie Gilliat-Ray even argues in her book, Religion in Higher Education: The Politics of the Multi-faith Campus', that institutions of higher education are "perhaps even more diverse than the UK generally because of the large number of students of different faiths from overseas." This diversity is to be celebrated and cherished, and interfaith dialogue is a great way to do this. I also believe that as people of faith we have a responsibility to engage with our siblings from other faith and spiritual backgrounds to help prevent the discrimination and intolerance which has sadly arisen alongside diversity.

Deepening Faith

If that isn't reason enough to persuade you to get involved in interfaith engagement at your university, then it is also worth mentioning how much *you* can learn and grow yourself through interfaith dialogue. Interfaith engagement takes us out of our bubbles and opens our eyes to new ways of doing faith and doing life. There is so much that we can learn about our own faiths by learning about other people's faiths. I am not saying that we should start practising elements of other faith and spiritual traditions, but instead that we can revive our faith through dialogue with others.

Creating Community

Finally, it is so easy to get involved in interfaith at university! Check with your Students' Union and Chaplaincy service to see if they have an interfaith network or forum, and to find out what they're doing for Inter Faith Week this year. If there isn't a network or forum why not set one up? The SU and Chaplaincy can help with this, but essentially all you need to do is connect with the different faith and spiritual societies and invite them to an initial meeting. As I said at the beginning, meetings don't have to be 'expert' theological debates, they can just be dedicated time to get to know each other. If you need some ideas of events to run, check out the Inter Faith Week website page specifically for running interfaith events on university campuses.

Outside of university, there may also be a local interfaith group in your town or city. It is worth a quick Google search to find out what is going on in your area. Often, interfaith groups are facilitated by local councils, so that is often a good place to start. 

So, what's stopping you?

If this blog has inspired you to get involved in interfaith engagement, why not send your first email now (or tomorrow morning if you are reading this late at night)? We'll be sharing more inter faith resources this month, plus running our own event for Inter Faith Week - Scriptural Reasoning and the Refugee Crisis, on 17th November at 7pm on Zoom. If you're a student or recent graduate we'd love to see you there! 

Interested in reading up on interfaith? Here are some good places to start:

Inter Faith Week

Inter Faith Network

Scriptural Reasoning

Council of Christians and Jews Campus Leadership Programme

Mitchell, S. “Interfaith Engagement as Social Action: Going Beyond Sharing Samosas to Realizing a Common Humanity” in Turner, V. (2022) Young, Woke and Christian. SCM Press: London. 

Gaston, R. (2017) Faith Hope and Love Interfaith Engagement as Practical Theology. London: SCM Press. 

Gilliat-Ray, S. (2000) Religion in Higher Education: The Politics of the Multi-faith Campus