Annu Subramanian: Religious conversations, not cliques

The hour is ripe with religious occurrence.

Today marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic month-long fast from eating, drinking and sexual relations during daylight hours. It is meant to be a time of prayer and devotion to God.

Today is also Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Many Jews will spend time in synagogue, resolving to improve aspects of their lives during the new year.

Saturday is Ganesh Chaturathi, the Hindu celebration of the birth of the elephant-headed god, Ganesh. Ganesh is the destroyer of obstacles and this day is observed through song, prayer and festivals.

Despite the frequency with which various religious celebrations and rituals take place on and around campus, GW students are deprived of a singular unifying forum to discuss and learn about not only their own religions, but the religions of others, as well.

For many students at GW, faith is less of a restriction and more of a cookie recipe: they conduct their lives, see the world and perform service with a higher being as their reason. Whether a student is Baptist, Buddhist or Baha’i, he or she uses spirituality as the means to achieve personal and societal improvement; each religion a recipe, yielding yummy cookies at the end of the day.

Differing faiths share similar goals and have several common denominators, but members are clustered into their individual corners where they interact exclusively with others of the same faith.

GW should facilitate conversation, not cliques.

So what’s the quickest route to interfaith conversation?

“Interaction and education,” said junior Jared MacDonald, director of multi-religious affairs for the Student Association and last year’s GW Interfaith Action Chair. “Finding a place where people with and without religion agree is an excellent way to bring them together.”

This is why GW should create an Interfaith Services Center. The IFSC would function much like the Multicultural Student Services Center, by providing a secular meeting place for the leaders of all religious groups on campus to hold meetings and plan events. University employees will manage interfaith programming and take care of administrative efforts. A hired spiritual leader could provide counseling and guidance to those who seek it.

Much like how the MSSC publicizes events from cultural groups, resulting in support and attendance from all races, the IFSC’s starkly different programs will draw supporters from all faiths. More importantly, the creation of an IFSC will open up the student body to a whole new arena for interfaith dialogue, a service from which every university could benefit today.

At a school notable for its religious diversity, it is a shame that our administration does not make it a personal objective to advance mere interfaith tolerance to active support.

GW currently has the Newman Center and GW Hillel for Catholic and Jewish students, respectively. The success of these individual centers demonstrates that students of any faith seek a meeting point. The IFSC could work closely with the two centers, which will draw major student support to the IFSC.

At the national level, the conversation regarding religion of late has been less pious and more inflammatory: the Muslim community center to be built two blocks away from Ground Zero has allowed religious intolerance in America to rear its ugly head.

This sort of discrimination must be put to rest. A transcendental understanding of one another can start here.

A GW Interfaith Student Center has the potential to be a tour de force on campus. And why shouldn’t it be? A higher power would be on its side.

-The writer, a sophomore majoring in journalism , is The Hatchet’s contributing opinions editor.

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