From mosques to cathedrals, this university’s Interfaith Experience Project is aiming to bring together different faiths and encourage acceptance, education and unity by exploring worship spaces.
The project, sponsored by the Multicultural Involvement & Community Advocacy office and the Memorial Chapel, will organize a series of trips to various religious-based communities and places of worship to explore and learn about different faiths.
The project began this past week when 10 university students attended the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Baitur Rehman Mosque in Silver Spring.
“It’s really been a community effort,” said Hanna Moerland, project creator and interfaith programs and spiritual diversity graduate coordinator for the multicultural involvement and community advocacy office. “They’re being able visit services and traditions they weren’t familiar with.”
An Ahmadiyya community outreach coordinator gave the group a tour and a talk about Islam. Melinda Pandiangan, a senior business major, attended the trip for the afternoon prayer and session.
“I’m from a Christian background,” Pandiangan said. “[Islam and Christianity] are closely related, but people don’t realize it.”
Joe Ehrenkrantz, a senior English and government and politics major, recently created the student group, the Interfaith Council, on the campus.
“What we as a council try to do is bring people together from different faiths, including atheism,” he said. Although not affiliated with the Interfaith Experience Project, Ehrenkrantz said the groups’ goals are similar.
“We’re better together,” he said. “We have dialogue together and conversations.”
The group also focuses on service projects, coming together to explore “what values or secular traditions compel people to serve and help one another,” he said.
As a community service organization, the Interfaith Council aims to bring together different religious groups in community acts, while the Interfaith Experience Project is more experiential and educational.
Pandiangan said an experience like the one offered by the Interfaith Experience Project shows not only the different values among religions, but also the connectivity.
“If you understood the religions, then you are more willing to connect,” Pandiangan said. “It would break down so many barriers, and lack of understanding is such a barrier.”
This university, she said, takes a lot of steps to combat racial barriers but could move forward in taking steps to knock down faith-based barriers. Many people tend to identify more with their faith than any other trait, she said.
“Everyone believes in something,” Pandiangan said. “Not necessarily a higher power, but values.”
While there are several types of religious organizations on the campus, cohesion might not be enough, Ehrenkrantz said.
Ehrenkrantz said he hopes to see a centralized location for students to congregate with people of any religion and know that it is “safe.”
“Bringing the campus together is something we need to do on such a large campus,” he said. “There wasn’t a place for communities to come together and unify at the university.”
The project is slated to visit Jewish student group Hillel next month for services and a Shabbat dinner, Moerland said, to continue to “increase interfaith literacy.”
While Pandiangan said she thinks people might say they are “too busy” or uninterested, it’s important to get this kind of exposure now.
“When you’re sitting in the room with all of these people praying … it makes you stronger in your faith and makes you a better person,” Pandiangan said.