From theory to practice: Teaching, learning, and communicating in interfaith studies

By Casey Tom

Student panel from left to right: Cale Hall, Tala AlRaheb, Brittani Magee, Kemal Budak (photo by George Conklin)

Students from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology joined the Rev. Dr. Deanna Womack, Assistant Professor of History of Religion and Multifaith Religions at Candler, to discuss experiences and the importance of interfaith engagement and communication. The student panel consisted of Kemal Budak, a PhD student in Sociology of Religion; Brittani Magee, a third-year Master of Divinity student; Tala AlRaheb, a Master of Theological Studies student; and Cale Hall, a Master of Theological Studies student.

The panel discussed what they have learned through academic studies, and how the practice of interfaith engagement has enhanced their learning. Magee shared that through academics came an understanding of belief and faith functions in different faith groups, however interfaith dialogue gives a true understanding of those faith traditions. Hall stated, “academic exposure shattered my preconceptions of different faith groups.” He then discussed a recent trip to India where he had the opportunity to experience how the people there live their own religion.

The panel then discussed moving from being scholars to interfaith communicators and what principles of interfaith communication can be used for dialogue at an interfaith table. Respect, tolerance, and open-mindedness we all brought up as significant components to interfaith dialogue. Budak said, “If you come to the activity to teach or propagate something, you are coming to have a monologue. You cannot come to the table with an agenda. Come to the table to learn something. Differences should be talked about.”

The students answered audience questions on people’s preconceived notions about different faith groups, shared some personal experiences, discussed action steps that can be taken to facilitate interfaith dialogue, and talked about the importance of interfaith engagement. AlRaheb shared, “Interfaith engagement has helped me put myself in other people’s shoes, it has helped me accept the plurality of world views.”

The panel closed by emphasizing the importance of building bridges and relationships across faith groups. The students shared that religion has created a division between people, because of this, it is necessary to have interfaith conversations.

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