People ask me why I’m interested in interfaith being an atheist. My family is not involved in faith or interfaith being non-practicing Anglicans. I’m from a small town with little to no diversity in faith or any matters. I don’t know is the honest answer what drew me to interfaith. I have always had an interest in learning and hearing about religion ever since doing R.E. at High School. Yet, what stands out for me about interfaith, and has led to me getting involved, has been its potential for change.
This is essential now more than ever with a growing number of social issues in the UK including religious and racial discrimination. Such discrimination has been endorsed and espoused by populists for their own agendas. Since Brexit these issues have only increased as we argue over what being British means, and what we should stand for. A question that has been bubbling under the surface for years long before Brexit.
To me interfaith offers a bridge in times of divide. One that we can use to fight issues facing religious communities and the UK in general. CCJ has proven this by raising awareness around modern slavery through Christian-Jewish engagement. Interfaith offers a chance to bond over joint principles whilst respecting religious’ differences. Today we are made to pick sides; Labour or Conservative, Remainer or Brexiter, and many others. We are then made to believe those who oppose our side are our enemy.
Interfaith challenges this by offering us a chance to come together rather than focusing on rhetoric or politics. CCJ’s study tour of Israel-Palestine exemplifies this, showing the conflict through the eyes of those who live through it past headlines and rhetoric. In universities this issue has seen any dialogue too often shut down because it’s interpreted as a sign of surrender or betrayal. Dialogue in instances like this offer the only way we can hope to overcome such divides. Without it conflicts become zero sum games where victory for any side will mean incalculable suffering for every side.
Students are active and passionate about a variety of social issues. The students of today will also be the leaders of the future from politics to science. These two facts make interfaith on campus so essential. Interfaith brings with it skills, knowledge, and understanding. The opportunity to learn these are now more than ever vital with universities becoming degree factories at the expense of students’ personal development.
CCJ’s Campus Leadership Programme has allowed me to develop myself and work with a more diverse group of people than ever before. Interfaith has allowed me to listen to Christians, Jews, Muslims, Baha’is, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists speak about their faith and their experiences. These topics had rarely crossed my mind before starting university but have now given me a new view on the world.
Interfaith has brought together people from all different faiths and none on campus who may have otherwise been separate. This is why programmes like CCJ’s, and more generally interfaith at universities, is so vital. They ensure these skills and principles go from one generation to the next. Moving forward we must promote further interfaith work on campuses. We must encourage universities to take a greater role alongside students in promoting interfaith. By doing this we can ensure that the leaders of the future will work towards a UK that is united and not divided.