Young people of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths have recently created a unique community at the Ecumenical Institute here. Together they seek to break religious stereotypes, promote mutual respect and enhance their understanding of religions beyond the conflict paradigm.
Taking part in a summer course titled “Building an Interfaith Community”, these young adults were hosted by the Ecumenical Institute ― a ministry of the World Council of Churches ― from Aug. 12-30.
“The course is an opportunity for me to learn about religions other than mine,” said Oriya Gorgi, a 21-year-old participant of Jewish faith, from Ashdod, Israel.
A student of religious and cultural studies, Gorgi considers the course an academic space to address issues pertinent to religious communities that otherwise might be considered too sensitive.
“In Bossey we have discussed several issues, ranging from the place of feminism in Islam to common values of peace within Christianity and Judaism,” said Gorgi.
“The discussions here are intense and intriguing, and we are not always in agreement. However, by the end of our conversations I always discover something new about even my own faith. This is the discovery that leads us to mutual respect, tolerance and acceptance of the other,” she said.
Gorgi went on to say that her experience at Bossey has challenged her perceptions based on media reports that often depict religion merely as a source of communal divisions.
“Our faiths have more commonalities than we think,” she said.
At Bossey participants also engaged in sharing different expressions of prayer and spirituality, along with attending scholarly lectures and taking part in plenaries and group discussions.
Promoting interfaith harmony
For Mataiva Dorothy Robertson the course provided a wide understanding of multi-faith relations. The 34-year-old Robertson, from the Methodist Church of New Zealand, shared that initially she feared compromising her Christian faith identity. These fears arose from her traditional upbringing in the South Pacific.
“My understanding of faith was somehow restricted to ‘my truth’ only. However, I ended up embracing the interfaith community wholeheartedly,” she said.
“Conversations with my Muslim and Jewish brothers and sisters gave me the knowledge I lacked,” stated Robertson. This dialogue, she stressed, reinforces the need to be respectful of other faiths, an attitude that can help foster mutual understanding and trust.
Robertson referred to “scriptural reasoning” sessions as one of the highlights in the course. “In-depth insights from Bible, Quran and Torah showed me how religions share common values of humanity which can be used to build interfaith harmony, justice and peace in communities.”
“When I return home I hope to collaborate with interfaith networks in New Zealand,” she added.
Similar experiences were shared by Yusef Syed, an 18-year-old Shi’a Muslim from Ireland. Born to Pakistani parents, Syed has been working with the interfaith groups in Dublin.
“There cannot be black and white understanding of any religion. By participating in the course I have realized how important it is to break stereotypes attached to faith identities,” Syed said.
“It is challenging to create a community of diverse beliefs. Once we engage in dialogue, we realize that a deep knowledge of religions exists behind the face of politics.”
“One of the great things in the course is to create such a diverse group of friends,” he added.
This year the summer course brought together 25 participants from New Zealand, Ireland, Israel, the U.S., Nigeria, Palestine, India, Lebanon, Sweden, Brazil and Germany.
Initiated in 2007, the course is jointly organized by the Ecumenical Institute of the WCC’s program on inter-religious dialogue and cooperation, Fondation pour l’entre-connaissance (Inter Knowing Foundation) and the Fondation Racines et Sources (Roots and Sources Foundation).