Broadening Perspectives through Interfaith Conversations

By: Eitan Paul

May 28, 2013

Five years ago, I decided to apply to Georgetown University, the nation’s oldest Catholic and Jesuit university. My parents, having raised me in a Jewish household, were worried whether there would be a vibrant Jewish community on campus and whether I would feel comfortable surrounded by crosses, priests, and a large Catholic student body. Most of all, they were concerned that I wouldn’t be able to find a nice Jewish girl. I shared some of my parents’ concerns.
When I visited Georgetown as an admitted student in spring 2008, I fell in love with the university in spite of its religious identity. But today, my love for Georgetown is largely because of the university’s Catholic and Jesuit spirit.

After moving into my freshman residence hall along with my Hindu roommate and my Catholic neighbor, late night conversations quickly turned from high school stories, classes, and girls to intense conversations about faith and politics, traditions and values, our ideals and convictions. My neighbor, a devout Catholic and conservative Republican soon became my best friend at Georgetown. As a Jew who doubted the existence of God and a proud liberal democrat, we usually disagreed in our conversations about faith and politics. Lacking agreement, we sought to at least understand one another’s beliefs, explaining what determines our ethics and sense of purpose.

My Georgetown education challenged me inside and outside the classroom to explore and explain my beliefs through classes on theology, ethics, and dialogue, and through my involvement in intercultural and interfaith extracurricular activities and informal conversations. Through this journey, I began to think critically about my own beliefs.

I grew up attending a Reform synagogue, which, while more liberal than Orthodox and Conservative congregations, still utilized traditionally theistic liturgies. Ironically, it was while taking a class called “Jesuit Education” taught by a Jesuit priest that I began to seriously question my metaphysical beliefs. The course required us to write essays and share reflections about where we stand with God and what gives us meaning, purpose, and direction. This led me to read about Reconstructionist and Humanistic Judaism and have conversations about my spiritual journey. These conversations helped me to better understand diverse cultural and religious backgrounds and to deepen my own metaphysical beliefs and ethical values.

This past September, I began working at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs where I conduct research on global liberal education—education that encourages self-reflection, ethical judgment, and openness to others. As I think back to my undergraduate experience, interfaith conversations were an essential part of my liberal education.

Creating an environment that inspires students to talk about what gives them purpose enriches their time in college and helps prepare them to tackle whatever challenges life may present. For this reason, colleges and universities in places as diverse as South Africa and South Korea are introducing liberal education curricula and encouraging dialogue and critical thinking on their campuses.

Georgetown, rooted in its Catholic faith and Jesuit values, believes in “Interreligious Understanding” and “Community in Diversity.” These beliefs are manifested in a campus environment that inspires students to think deeply about their convictions, share those beliefs with peers, and learn from the experiences of others. This type of dialogue, even if it does not produce agreement, makes us better friends and family members, better professionals, and better citizens of our world.

This blog post was originally published by Interfaith Youth Core.
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Broadening Perspectives through Interfaith Conversations