Interreligious Dialogues: A Student-Directed Effort at Georgetown
October 4, 2011
A Georgetown junior is spearheading a series of interreligious dialogues after her own experiences with Muslims helped her better understand Islam and her own Catholic faith. Jordan Denari (SFS’13), president of the Interfaith Council, says the goal of the Faith in Conversation dialogues, which start tonight, is to talk about religion “in kind of a personal, intimate environment … from personal experience. The council is a joint creation of the Office of Campus Ministry and the Georgetown University Students Association (GUSA) that began in 2001. The dialogue group hopes to hold a number of small sessions of two to three students each to discuss religious and spiritual questions from different belief systems.
Denari says the dialogues will include tough, yet thought-provoking questions in a respectful manner that embraces the differences in religious traditions. “I think when we talk about interreligious dialogue, often people think it’s just talking about the similarities and ignoring the difficult parts of the conversation,” the culture and politics major says. “And we really want to focus on differences … [and] show us the unique takes that our particular faiths have on God.” Denari, a Roman Catholic, says the idea for the dialogues began in her freshman year when she met Wardah Athar (C‘13), a Muslim and Joanna Foote (SFS‘13), a Protestant.
Through these conversations, Denari says she not only got to know both of them better – she also decided in her sophomore year to live in a Muslim Interest Living Community on campus and join the Georgetown Muslim Students Association. “We put aside all fears of causing offense, and we were able to say exactly what we thought and believed,” Athar says. “The honesty helped us to understand where the others were coming from and it helped us explain our own beliefs more clearly.” Foote says the dialogues are “what our Jesuit education is about – working with our peers to constantly question our opinions as we grow into a deeper understanding of the world and God.”
Aamir Hussain (C’14), outreach chair of the Interfaith Council, believes the university already does a good job of integrating interfaith dialogue on campus. He says making the dialogues a student-directed effort shows “the enthusiasm for interfaith understanding exists, and even originates at the student level.”
Denari will study abroad in Amman, Jordan next semester, where she hopes to learn more about the history of Islam and Muslim-Christian interaction. She also blogs about religious issues and misrepresentation of Muslims in the media on her own website. “I feel like my experience at Georgetown has really been shaped by my interaction with the Muslim community,” Denari says, “and seeing the beauty in that community has helped me look for that in Catholicism.”