To launch interfaith on campus for the academic year of 2017-2018, the Interfaith Representatives from faith societies at the University of Birmingham along with Catherine Bridgwood and I, as the CCJ Student Leaders, coordinated an event entitled ‘Speed Faithing’. Speed Faithing is a concept that originated in US colleges in the noughties with the aim of encouraging students to talk about their own faith and ask questions about other students’ beliefs in a relaxed and friendly environment.
Since Birmingham as a city and a university community is so diverse both culturally and religiously, the concept of ‘Speed Faithing’ was the ideal platform for an informal interfaith event. In the opening welcome, it was stressed that each person was there to talk about their own personal faith and learn about the personal faith of others. No one had the pressure of representing their entire faith group or denomination; we could simply ask and answer questions truthfully in respect of our personal convictions. This created an atmosphere where nuances of belief were made clear through conversations. For instance, I talked to a number of Catholics at the event, all of whom had different perspectives on the sanctity of life. It was refreshing to hear these ideas and to understand that within any single denomination or sect of a faith group subtlety and diversity of opinion exists.
For those who perhaps didn’t fit easily into a single faith group or denomination, the event empowered them to feel able to talk about their faith, which was wonderful to see. There was no shame in students admitting that they were unsure or questioning what they believed, particularly in regard to the compatibility of faith with an increasingly socially liberal society. Exchanges surrounding potentially controversial topics such as LGBTQ+ people and Israel/Palestine were able to be had in a mutually respectful environment, although the time did put limitations on the depth of such conversations. It only took two rounds for people to comment that they wanted longer conversation limits – we started at 2 minutes, increasing it to 3, 5, then 6 minutes throughout the evening! Even then, some people wanted to talk for longer!
The feedback from the event was positive, with attendees keen to take part in more interfaith events throughout the year. There was particular interest in and sport-based socialising and some community-based social action. With around 30 students taking part, there was a relatively good mix of faiths. It was lovely to see such inquisitive engagement in interfaith during our launch event, and indeed there were many requests for a similar event to be run again in the future.
Overall, the ‘Speed Faithing’ event was an encouraging start to the year; the team of students interested in interfaith on campus has grown directly as a result of the event and new ideas of interfaith events and activities have emerged. Within such a diverse city as Birmingham, an event based on personal faiths and the participation of students, rather than a panel with representatives from faith groups, was an important aspect to consider when planning the event. The ‘Speed Faithing’ event was particularly successful in this regard, and its success bodes well for the further interfaith events at the University of Birmingham!
CCJ Student Leader