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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Tuesday, June 25, 2024

True religious diversity requires open dialogue

The word ""diversity"" often conjures up thoughts of ethnicity, particularly on a college campus buzzing with conversation sparked by an article this paper published.

We can't forget that diversity is more than skin deep. Students also differ on the basis of economic background, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs and religion.

Religious diversity abounds at UW-Madison, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist students. I live right next door to the Christian Science building, and let's not forget the thriving church of atheism on this campus.

Intense religious beliefs exist here on campus and our world. Why don't we discuss faith more?

""Maybe religion is even more uncomfortable to discuss than race,"" said Steven Olikara, chair of the ASM Diversity Committee.

""You start talking about morals and values when you discuss religion. It gets really into how you view the world, how you define good and bad.""

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Religion should overtake a person's entire thought process and how they approach anything in their life, according to Rashid Dar, president of the UW Muslim Students Association.

""It's a big philosophy to accept,"" Dar said. ""That's why religious people scare some people nowadays.""

Is there a point to discussing faith, a concept less tangible and noticeable than skin tones and bank accounts?

How can we not discuss faith when it is such an eye-opening avenue to understanding peoples' world views?

Too often assumptions are made based on religious labels. Faith is far too personal and varied to stereotype. The Roman-Catholic Kennedys are pro-choice. Mormon presidential candidate Mitt Romney was just about the only Republican in 2008 to have had only one wife. And no, Glenn Beck, Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison does not have to ""prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.""

Religion, for some, is the most defining characteristic of their being. It is a different beast than ethnicity. Both should be celebrated, but faith is a choice, albeit influenced by environment. Beliefs, particularly the ongoing inner-discussion that is faith, should be more indicative of ourselves as humans than factors outside our control.

""Outside of individual religions, no, I don't think there is an interfaith discussion,"" said Josh Kock-Fogarty, member of the College Democrats. ""Catholics, Muslims, Jews, I don't know if there's much dialogue across denominations.""

There must be more discussion of faith on campus so less students regard it as a taboo subject. A lack of education and knowledge of various faiths stifles open conversation. According to Dar, many high schools fail to offer any religion courses. Next semester, UW is not offering a single undergrad class on Islam. It's difficult to talk if you don't know where to start.

But further handicapping honest discussion is a fear of offending others. Our world has millions of dogmatic fundamentalists, a history and present of bloodshed in the name of religion. We can overcome such fears with simple discussion.

Such discussion will not lead to the bastardization, watering down and death of religion. Self-preservation requires respect from others.

The Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions offers a forum for Jews, Christians and Muslims to discuss faith here in Madison.

But Dar said he is frustrated when people water down their views for the sake of political correctness is such forums.

""If people are interested in religion, they should know what others believe,"" said Dar. ""I don't want to be forced to pretend we're all the same.""

Celebrating our differences, particularly our differences in belief, can lead to stronger individuality, more diverse communities, and courageous people.

As an academic institution, UW should be working even harder to foster education and celebration of the diversity of faiths.

""From an academic standpoint, if you can understand what people value and what connects with them, that makes business sense,"" Olikara said.

""A significant amount of world conflict is the result of people who understand and respect only their own faith,"" Kock-Fogarty said.

""If we understood each other a little more, maybe we'd find more in common.""

Jamie Stark is a sophomore intending to major in journalism and political science. We welcome all feedback. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.comĀ 

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