Photo: Rabbi Yehuda Sarma and Imam Khalid Latif
I wanted to report about the Symposium on religion that took place earlier in the week. We replaced regular classes for the first three periods with presentations and discussion aimed at exploring the roles that religion play within society and within our school. Having addressed issues like race and gender in previous programs, we wanted to bring an open conversation about religion to the forefront with our students, many of whom identify strongly with their faith but do not share that aspect of their lives in school. We also wanted to consider the wide variety of practices within the school, and allow for those practices to be made more overt. Included in this variety were those who are questioning or not involved in organized religion. A main goal was to lower the barriers to discussion.
We began with a keynote address about the concept and history of religion, delivered by the head of religious studies at NYU. He gave a talk that evolved from his consideration of the origin of the word religion, as defined by Cicero just over 2000 years ago, and stressed the ways in which religions have a lot of commonality. The talk led to some excellent responses that asked about the places where religions are different from one another and consequently hard to talk about without fear of offending others.
We left the auditorium and headed out for small group conversations to contemplate some responses to the first talk and also to consider real-life scenarios, written by a group of students for their peers, about instances where a student’s religion brought awkward or unpleasant responses or actions. In mixed grade groups with facilitators from the faculty, these sessions brought out more interesting comments and stories about how our students experience religion in such a diverse community and navigate their own identities. We are compiling the notes from these conversations and will use them for future conversation.
We returned for a video and interactive presentation by a Rabbi and Imam about their inter-faith friendship, and how that friendship allows them to look for common ground in spite of their religious differences, and work towards understanding rather than confrontation. They told remarkable stories about situations they have encountered, and demonstrated the ways in which they are making the world a better place, one relationship at a time. I think that our students found these gentlemen to be fascinating and inspiring. I certainly did.
It would be the mark of a valuable discussion if students chose to share the experience at home. I hope your child did mention the program in one way or another. We have asked for feedback, both specifically about today’s program but also about the format of the day, and we will see how exactly they felt as we contemplate other topics we might study in future symposia.
Thanks for reading this summary – I hope that you found it interesting.