Campus News

After tumultuous year, new campus group aims to foster dialogue between religions

The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry was founded to provide a space for students to have difficult but respectful conversations about religion.

Image By: Courtesy Emily Hamer - UW News

After a year of religious tension at UW-Madison, including instances of anti-Semitic vandalism and clashes between Jewish and Muslim students over a student government proposal to divest from businesses with ties to Israel, a new program is hoping to use religious dialogue to bring together students with different beliefs.

The group, called the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry, formed this year to provide a group of 12 students with the opportunity to discuss religion with students from different backgrounds. The center had its first meeting Oct. 10.

Although only 12 students are in the program, organizers and members are hoping its impact will reach the entire campus. Kyra Fox, a Jewish and Unitarian-Universalist student in the program, said she is “really excited to see what the 12 of us can do beyond this room.”

“To incidents of hate, discrimination and bigotry on our campus, I’d like to see faith groups come together and stand as a unified front,” Fox said in a university release. “I think that can be really powerful when it’s not just one faith group condemning it, but it’s everyone saying this is not our faith, our faith does not condone this.”

Ulrich Rosenhagen, a professor of religious studies, is the facilitator of the group’s discussions. He echoed Fox when he said the group has larger goals than just creating a space for 12 students to talk.

“The center at this point is really in its infancy,” Rosenhagen said in the release. “Two years down the road we hope to have many more campus wide programs for students to pop in and participate in.”

Members of the center have already created a Facebook group, called the UW Interfaith Network, for students to share ideas with people from different belief systems. Additionally, some students from outside the program are hoping the center will help promote and improve already existing platforms for inter-religious dialogue.

Yogev Ben-Yitschak, a Jewish student and Associated Students of Madison representative, was one of the organizers of UW-Madison’s first ever Interfaith Weekend, which took place last spring. He said that while last year the weekend brought together a “tag team” of different religious organizations, this year he hopes to run the program through the new center.

“I think [last year’s Interfaith Weekend] was really great and truly showed that events based around connecting people, such as interfaith or multicultural events, can really create change on this campus,” Ben-Yitschak told the Daily Cardinal.

Although he is not one of the 12 students in the program, Ben-Yitschak said he hopes teaming up with the center will help him and other organizers better promote the weekend and open it up to a larger variety of students and religions.

Within the center, many of the student participants have large goals for the upcoming school year. Maddie Loss, a Christian student, suggested worship services involving all religions, while Muslim Students Association member Zahiah Hammad wants to organize panels and film viewings. Another Christian student, Zawadi Carroll, hopes the program will organize events around sharing food culture.

For Rosenhagen, a “void” exists on campus; students, he said, don’t talk enough about religion. That’s why he chose to found and direct the new center.

“We’re not only talking about race, we’re not only talking about gender or sexual orientation, we’re also talking about religion when we’re talking about who we are and what we want to become as a community,” Rosenhagen said in the release. “Religion is part of our identity, part of who we are.”

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