A year of extraordinary learning and experiences is coming to an end this week, and one program that made an impact on campus in 2016-2017 is the Interfaith Dialogue Group.
Raffaela Corrias, the group’s advisor, believes that knowledge of religion is essential in order to understand the modern world and the opportunities and challenges we face. “We need to talk about religion. For too long, especially in Europe, the feeling was that nobody should discuss religion and that it should be kept separate from daily life. I think this has actually caused more problems in the world.”
The Interfaith Dialogue Group meets weekly and focuses their discussions on exploring different themes through the lens of religious traditions (including atheism) as experienced by the participants. The group also supports believers of certain religions on campus in their effort to practice what is meaningful to them.
Dialogue vs Debate
While some activities at ISAK such as MUN (Model United Nations) and debate encourage students to argue and persuade, the Interfaith group bases all sessions on dialogue. Students are encouraged to become engaged listeners, to understand each other, to make meaning and find common ground.
“A dialogue is where we always respect another person’s words. We don’t try to reject or even judge another’s point critically or personally, and we listen with our ears and our minds.”
-Wesley (USA / Taiwan, Class of 2017)
Celebrating Ramadan in the ISAK Community
Of all the faiths and beliefs in our community, Islam is perhaps the most misunderstood.
“If we look at the world we live in now, it appears that a lot of people really misunderstand Islam and always connect it to ISIS. I believe if people really knew what is Islam, they would see how different it is from ISIS. I want everyone to know the true Islam and what it means to be a Muslim.”
-Fardous (Somalia, Class of 2018)
To help foster understanding of Islam and support the Muslim students at ISAK, the Interfaith Dialogue Group hosted Iftar, the breaking of the fast Muslims celebrate every evening during Ramadan. It was a nice opportunity for the Muslim members of our community to share something that is meaningful to them. Sharing one’s faith while being open to the beliefs of others can also make an individual’s own faith stronger.
“Being in the Interfaith Dialogue Group made me gain a better understanding about my own beliefs and helped me a lot with my preparations for Ramadan. It made it easier for me to fast and practice my religion.”
-Hajar (Oman, Class of 2018)
The Benefits of Discussing Faith
What can be gained by discussing religion and faith in a safe place like a dialogue group? According to the students who participated, the experience is beneficial in many ways.
“Living in Japan as a teenager, I didn’t really get to connect with religion or talk about it, and I had a lack of knowledge. Being in such a diverse community I thought that it was my obligation to know more about it. I am just curious about it all.”
-Koki (Japan, Class of 2017)
“This was a way for me to understand about others’ religions and understand the perspective of those who do not have one. Also, it is a way to understand people better, their beliefs and the cultures they live by. The dialogue group is a safe space for me to talk about my religion without the fear of being judged.”
-Esther (Sierra Leone, Class of 2018)
“In a way, it made my belief stronger to hear others talking about their religion and how they do things differently. It is really interesting to hear from others. Sometimes I feel like believing not only in God but in yourself is the most important thing. You know God when you know yourself, and so hearing from other people about their god or gods, it brings me closer to know myself more and be curious about what is God and who is God. Different questions come to my head, I find the answers studying my own beliefs and hearing other beliefs and comparing the difference.”
-Khudoyberdi (Tajikistan, Class of 2018)
What is planned for 2017-2018?
When ISAK officially joins the UWC movement next year, we will embrace a shared mission of making education a force to unite people, nations and cultures for peace and a sustainable world. Ms. Corrias believes the Interfaith Dialogue Group is squarely aligned with the UWC mission and hopes to expand the program in the coming year.
In April of 2018, an Interfaith Festival will be organized and hosted on campus. The main focus will be Buddhism and Shinto, Japan’s two major religions. Ms. Corrias would also like to give students the opportunity to meet people from different religious communities (Buddhist, Shinto, Jewish, Christian, Muslims, etc.) in Japan and to organize some trips to visit places of religious significance in the country. Additionally, she would like to find ways to expand the role of interfaith dialogue in the school’s peace-building activities.