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Interfaith organization discusses religious unity

Mills College hosted a lunchtime presentation Feb. 9 by Interfaith Youth Core, an organization that promotes religious unity on college campuses.

The organization, whose presentation included a film screening and discussion, is founded on the principle of religious pluralism, which is defined as respect for religious identities and the formation of relationships across religious boundaries.

“Interfaith Youth Core is a nonprofit organization that was started by young people about 10 years ago who were in college themselves. [They looked] around their classroom and realized there was a lot of discussion about racial diversity and sexual diversity, but religion was not part of that conversation,” said the organization’s International Programs Coordinator, Jenan Mohajir.

Erika Macs, Director of Spiritual and Religious Life at Mills, organized the event to create an interfaith dialogue between the different religious groups on campus.

“They are the ‘it’ group building interfaith communities across college campuses in the U.S. I met them at a conference three years ago and watched them flourish,” said Macs. “They have a lot of people out of college doing the work, which helps make them more effective. They know more about what current students’ interests are for dialogue.”

There are more than five faith-based clubs on campus, including Workers of Faith, the Muslim Student Association, the Mills Pagan Alliance and the Jewish Student Union. An interfaith dialogue aims to create more opportunities for solidarity among them.

“We’ve come to realize that college campuses are probably the best places to really grow religious pluralism,” said Julie Maxwell, the Administrative Associate at Interfaith Youth Core. “The reality is most of the students will leave and go to completely different communities and have to figure out how to work with people who are from different faiths.”

The presentation started with a five minute clip of the documentary “God’s Warriors” about the contemporary relationship between Jews, Christians and Muslims in the U.S. and abroad. Next, an untitled documentary was screened, featuring young people from Jordan and the U.S. speaking about their faiths. The youth worked to challenge cultural stereotypes and educate others with various religious and non-religious backgrounds.

“Mills’ spiritual community or religious community is not very strong, but there is a level of respect which is the most important thing on campus,” said junior Marjan Soleimanieh, after watching the documentary.

The Interfaith Youth Core representatives came to Mills with ideas about how to promote religious unity on campus, including starting a religious calendar, planning student-run activities to learn about different faiths, creating more academic courses to study religion and discussing religion during new student orientation.

The organization hopes to encourage the community to create an atmosphere that accepts religious differences.

“We’re hoping Mills is going to become a college where we can look to say ‘this is what religious pluralism is all about,'” said Maxwell. “These women are living together with different possible theological or philosophical beliefs, yet they are coexisting in harmony.”

Interfaith Youth Core holds a conference every fall for students interested in discussing religious pluralism and promoting interfaith dialogues on their campus.