Cary Dabney is a recent graduate of our department. He will be pursuing his graduate studies at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge Massachusetts this fall.
We live in a world today inundated with media that resists any sort of religiously homogenous environment. The study of religion in a multi-faith environment affects societies in general and has a tremendous personal effect on the individual participating in the studies. In times of social crisis, we witness how commercial and political powers use sensationalized religious propaganda to promote divisive feelings among the populace. Daily, we interact and share our secular life with unavoidable diversity that challenges our traditions, beliefs, and values. This results in a tense and stressful community that appears to embrace diversity, but wears a cloak of intolerance beneath the surface.
Most students entering undergraduate study will choose to concentrate on areas that traditionally lead to prosperous careers. Any course taken in the field of religion is expected to mirror their own beliefs, and if not, students avoid the challenge of learning the value of belief systems that differ from their own. The English philosopher William Kingdon Clifford once stated, “If a man, holding a belief…purposely avoids the company of men that call it to question, the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.”1 Undergraduate study in a multi-faith environment forces a person of faith to deal with issues that may haunt their traditions and convictions.
Because our established convictions and belief systems are essential to our identity, it is important to be able to articulate them beyond the appeal to tradition. The interaction with other traditions of faith opens up one’s experience to the possibility that the traditional position can be understood in a different light. This process is an arduous journey. However, once the journey is complete, one can articulate their position of faith and provide concrete, logical arguments for refined convictions and beliefs. Ultimately, one can learn to embrace the values shared by all faith traditions while simultaneously appreciating what makes each different.
Of course, there are some growing pains as we explore this interfaith journey. Confronting other faiths is a challenge. Respecting the legitimacy of other faiths is humbling. Recognizing the commonality of other faiths is destabilizing. This process of learning results in the deconstruction of the “edifice of conviction.” This is especially true if another faith tradition is capable of approaching and resolving philosophical dilemmas not easily explained by one’s own tradition. This journey in theological study inevitably brings about more questions than answers. Some of these questions begin to dismantle the very foundation which one’s traditional convictions stand. Some proposed answers sound the death toll.
Yet, I have learned that at YSU, this interfaith journey in the study of religion, while difficult, is transformative. In light of this experience, I can express my foundation of faith more clearly. No longer is my faith founded merely on tradition; rather, along with faith it is reinforced with reason, experience, and an appreciation of the evolution of the tradition. More importantly though, the interfaith experience provided a chance for me to immerse myself in an environment in which all participants are equipped with a respectful and open-minded attitude toward other faith traditions. This attitude can help construct a faith community that better models the diverse world in which we live. I have truly enjoyed my experience. I strongly suggest a course or two in the study of religion in YSU’s a multi-faith environment. It will enable you see various religious and philosophical traditions as bridges of cooperation rather than walls of separation.
Thomas A. Shipka and Arthur J. Minton, Philosophy: Paradox and Discovery, 5th ed. (New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc., 2004), 10 ↩