“God is light on light. Always look for the resonance.”
Those were the words that propelled Eboo Patel into a life dedicated to interfaith cooperation. His father would quietly utter this verse to Patel when, as a young boy, he asked why their family prayed to a shrine of Virgin Mary even though they were Muslim.
Today, Eboo Patel is a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).
He told this story and several others Tuesday night at a lecture arranged by the Buffet Center. More than 50 students and faculty filed into Harris Hall to hear Patel talk about his new bookSacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America.
Among his main points, Patel stressed that interfaith leadership is vital now more than ever because people are constantly pointing to conflicts among different religions. He said people need to work towards eliminating assumptions that “religion poisons everything” or that certain faiths are only out to destroy others. “If there are individuals making religion a mechanism of violence, are there not people who could be doing the opposite?”
Patel encouraged students to carry on the work of the founding fathers and Martin Luther, whom he considers “interfaith leaders.” He told his audience to “raise the volume” on pluralism, by highlighting the connections between every faith (including atheism) and using those commonalities to inspire one another.
“There’s no place on the planet that takes an idea to reality as fast as a college campus,” Patel said to students.
Patel’s visit and words of advice coincided with a groundbreaking program being tested by the University Chaplain’s office that VP of Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin approved last year.
The Chaplain’s office has enlisted eight students to serve as “interfaith advocates” for the year. Each advocate will be responsible for planning two events each quarter that promote interfaith engagement, as well as a large-scale collaborative event in the spring. Participants are each given $500 a year for the costs of their individual events and are rewarded with a separate $500 stipend each quarter.
Weinberg senior Rachel Schwartz is one of this year’s advocates. She attended Patel’s IFYC Leadership Institute this summer with two other interfaith advocates, Keryn Wouden and Erica Mclin. There, they began planning for their new campaign on Northwestern’s campus, “Feel Better Together.”
The program, an extension of IFYC’s “Better Together” campaign, sheds light on mental health and emotional issues faced by the Northwestern community campus, and highlights how students choose to — or choose not to — use their faith to cope. “Our goal is to raise awareness of mental health issues on campus, and to get the word out about the different mental health resources around campus,” Schwartz said.
The trio plans on bringing a panel of mental health professionals and representatives from the Chaplain’s office together on campus for a discussion open to the entire Northwestern community. Fliers for the event, tentatively scheduled for late November, will be posted around campus in coming weeks.