Interfaith Group at the U Aims to Unite Students Through Religious Dialogue

dat Kamryn Broschinsky

The Interfaith group at the University of Utah strives to build bridges between students of various religions to establish understanding and dialogue about beliefs. They celebrate the differences and similarities between faiths at meetings and events.

Interfaith is supported by the Religious Studies Program and is open to anyone interested in learning about religion and spirituality. The group consists of a diverse set of students from many religious backgrounds, including but not limited to Judaism, Islam,  Atheism and Christianity.

“Our goal is to increase religious communication and understanding and decrease religious tension, intolerance, or persecution,” said Jenica Jessen, the president of Interfaith. “When you understand someone else’s beliefs and get to know them as a person — even when you disagree — you’re less likely to come into conflict and more likely to empathize. That’s why interfaith dialogue and education is a major focus for us.”

Interfaith gives students the ability to expand on their own beliefs as well as encounter many others. According to Jessen, studying other religions often results in an increase of spirituality and empathy.

“We aren’t interested in challenging anyone’s beliefs; we come together to discuss, not debate,” said Jessen. “Our goal is to share our own thoughts with the group, not to critique the thoughts of others. On a larger scale, interfaith work can be used to resolve problems such as Islamophobia, the radicalization of youth or disagreements about the meaning of religious freedom. I don’t think that our little group here at the U is going to solve all of the world’s problems, but we are giving people the skills and knowledge they’ll need to tackle those problems in the future.”

The group comes together to celebrate religious holidays throughout the year. Some of the holidays observed at Interfaith events during fall semester include the Jewish holiday Sukkot and the Hindu festival Diwali.

Some might believe that students at the U — hailing from a plethora of religious backgrounds — cannot work toward a common goal.

“The single big similarity that everyone has is that we all have a great respect for each other,” said Jessen. “We may disagree fundamentally, but we all want to learn more and find ways that we can work together. At the end of the day, we’re all here because our beliefs are important to us and so is interfaith work.”

Meetings are Wednesdays at 3 p.m. in the Marriott Library. Students are welcome to talk about topics like the nature of God, scriptures and how religion intersects with culture. Interfaith’s first meeting of spring semester is Jan. 25. The group will post updates regarding meetings on their Facebook page.

m.bashir@dailyutahchronicle.com