At Home with Our Differences

Susan Henry-Crowe 76T, University chaplain and dean of religious life

Emory is home to students, faculty, and staff from nearly thirty of the world’s religious communities. Here, religious pluralism not only means a strong and healthy representation of people from Jewish, Christian, Islamic, Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhist, and Sikh traditions, but also immense diversity within each religion. Just as not all Christians are alike, neither are all persons from Hindu, Islamic, or Jewish traditions.

Last March, twenty-eight students on the Inter-Religious Council and the United Methodist Campus Ministry—a group that included twenty-one Christian, two Hindu, one Sikh, one Jewish, one Muslim, one Baha’i, and one Buddhist participant—spent spring break in New York City with the United Methodist Seminar Program at the Church Center for the United Nations in a seminar designed especially for Emory students. With the theme “Inter-Religious Dialogue and Relationships,” the purpose of our visit was to foster deeper understanding of the practices of the world’s great religions and deepen relationships among students.

The Jewish holiday Purim was celebrated with the B’Nai Jeshurun Congregation. A visit to an Islamic school and a conversation with the imam who serves the Muslim community in the Bronx was a highlight. Alumehlu Iyengar, a teacher of Hinduism at the Ganapathi Temple in Queens, animated Hinduism’s sense of responsibility for education and service to the larger community. The Interfaith Center of New York’s director of programming, Matt Weiner, spoke about the organization’s sponsorship of seminars for New York judges, lawyers, and social workers in their engagement with people and communities of many faith traditions.

Devout observers of seven different religious traditions, this group of curious, bright Emory students is bound by similar tastes in music, the arts, theater, and intellectual interests. Hours of conversation took place while walking the streets of New York, at dinner, in coffee bars, and finally in the rooms in our small, quaint hotel. Spending the better part of a week together brought home for all of us the delights and the differences of the human condition.

The Office of Religious Life expects each faith community to articulate and represent its own tradition as fully, fairly, and inclusively as possible. At times, this is difficult. There is great variety within each religious tradition. Young laypeople are not always familiar with the finer points of theology, religious study, interpretation of sacred texts, or religious practices. This is, in fact, what makes the work of the Inter-Religious Council so lively and challenging. The rich religious diversity at Emory makes possible a remarkable breadth and depth of interaction. Hospitality and respect are principles which undergird, strengthen, and enhance life at Emory—principles that are precious in an increasingly suspicious and fearful world.

On the day when a young student says, “It is true that in my sacred text and tradition there is a wonderful account of a Creation story. In many ways it is very much like the Creation account (or two) of yours, and here are a few of the ways our creation stories diverge”—then I know true interreligious conversation is taking place.



 © 2006 Emory University