February 23, 2010
Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, called for Wooster and other colleges and universities across the country to take a role in promoting interfaith leadership.
WOOSTER, Ohio - If meaningful discussions about religious diversity and interfaith dialogue are to take place in the United States, then colleges and universities must take a lead role in the process. That sentiment was one of several shared by Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, during a highly anticipated visit to The College of Wooster last Thursday.
“What aspirations for interfaith cooperation might we model to have a positive impact on a culture whose most widely-known religious framework is the clash of civilizations,” asked Patel during an hour-long discussion with two dozen administrators and staff members - one of three public sessions in which he participated, including a presentation to the Spring Academy of Religion that evening.
Patel, who is also a member of the Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, compared this issue to the environmental and multicultural movements of the past decade, both of which originated and gained momentum on college campuses across the country. "What if Wooster students could walk out of here after four years as leaders who could shape the dialogue," he asked in bringing the conversation
closer to home. "What if it were to become part of the campus ethos?"
Patel's questions spurred a flurry of responses, many of which reflected the perception that Wooster has a cultural reluctance to take a strong stand on issues, preferring instead to stay closer to the middle of the road. Others argued that Wooster students try to address too many issues and thereby become less effective in their efforts. Patel responded by pointing out that religious pluralism is an issue of the same magnitude as multiculturalism and environmentalism, and should be treated with the same sense of urgency. He urged the group to embrace the reputation that colleges and universities have for taking on unsafe issues. "This issue needs to be addressed in higher education," he said. "These problems are solvable."
Patel suggested that Wooster consider a poster campaign that would bring interfaith dialogue to the forefront. "A model for bringing students from different faith backgrounds together already exists through the chaplaincy at Wooster," he said. "The next step would be to include students,
faculty, staff, and administrators in efforts to build a culture of interfaith cooperation on campus."
In reflecting on Patel's visit, Linda Morgan-Clement, Chaplain and Director of Interfaith Campus Ministry at Wooster, said, "We have been building an interfaith ministry for 14 years, and I see Wooster as being well poised to be a leader in educating students to be interfaith leaders. We hope that Eboo's visit will provide a necessary challenge for the College as a whole to take courageous steps toward integrating the work across campus so that we can truly create a culture of religious pluralism that better equips our students to be effective and educated global citizens."
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