University fellowships seek to promote interfaith dialogue

The Office for Religious Life (ORL) will again offer two fellowships next year in an ongoing effort to build connections between various religious and spiritual groups on campus.

According to Dean of Religious Life Reverend Scotty McLennan, teaching students how to understand others’ beliefs is critical in training students for positions of global leadership.

“We need to graduate people from Stanford—ideally it would be every Stanford student—who understand the power and role of religion in the world and are able to help people talk across differences,” McLennan emphasized.

The two fellowships aim to contribute to interfaith dialogue in different ways. The Interfaith Fellowship, which offers a $4,000 stipend, selects two students to support interfaith programming in conjunction with the ORL, while the Rathbun Fellowship for Religious Encounter (FRE), which grants a $500 stipend, creates a weekly discussion space for up to 16 students.

Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann described the FRE fellowship as an opportunity for people from different religious communities to “get to know one another, develop trust and learn about one another’s religious experiences.”

Karlin-Neumann said that the significance of religious diversity—in relation to people’s values—can often be understated or misunderstood, and the fellowship is intended to overcome that.

“Part of what we’re able to do in the fellowship is build up enough trust to have some hard conversations and to understand perspectives that, in too many settings, we either don’t hear or can disregard or discount,” Karlin-Neumann said.

Current fellow Kasiemobi Udo-okoye ’15 said that her group has discussed topics like race, religion and, in the wake of the recent Boston bombings, how violence affects people emotionally and spiritually.

Karlin-Neumann said the fellowship has helped people with diametrically opposed viewpoints develop an appreciation for one another. She recalled an occasion in which two FRE fellows participated in competing demonstrations in White Plaza and then, after the rallies were over, put down their placards and hugged.

“To me, that was a real manifestation of FRE,” Karlin-Neumann said.

Udo-okoye said that the fellowship has provided her with the opportunity to remove herself from the constant pressures of everyday life at Stanford, giving her time and space to reflect.

“It’s taught me that it’s important to step back and evaluate myself, who I am and where I’m going—especially thinking of myself within the larger community,” Udo-okoye reflected.

According to the ORL website, fellows are required to make two presentations to the campus community during the year. Karlin-Neumann also said many fellows bring the lessons learned from discussions into other areas of campus, citing a student-initiated course—RELIGST 28SI: Interfaith@Noon, sponsored by one current and two former fellows—as an example.

The Interfaith Fellowship, on the other hand, is specifically intended to facilitate events and programs that foster relationships between different communities. McLennan said that the Interfaith Fellowship was established two years ago because the ORL felt that there were inadequate connections among the 34 different Stanford Associated Religions (SAR).

“They were all understandably concerned about trying to further their own tradition,” McLennan said. “We felt by hiring these interfaith fellows, we could stimulate more programming and help people relate to each other better.”

McLennan said there is no religious affiliation needed to become a fellow as long as an applicant exhibits a passion for promoting interfaith dialogue. Programming includes collaborative community service projects, joint worship services and events that represent people from various backgrounds.

As an example, McLennan cited an event put on by the Hindu community this winter that invited people from all religious traditions to present music, poetry or speeches in Memorial Church. He noted there are often multi-faith or interfaith worship services during holidays or campus events like Parents’ Weekend.

Current fellow Chase Ishii ’13 said the position has exposed him to a wide variety of backgrounds and traditions.

“A lot of times people get too caught up in the categories and the labels of a religion and forget that there’s a universal humanity that underlies all these different things,” Ishii said.  “Getting to really learn about other religions is just another way to understand a person’s humanity.”

Applications for the 2013-2014 Interfaith Fellowship close today.

  • Samuel Maynes

    If you are interested in some new ideas on religious pluralism and the
    Trinity, please check out my website at http://www.religiouspluralism.ca, and give me
    your thoughts on improving content and presentation.

    My thesis is that an abstract version of the Trinity could be
    Christianity’s answer to the world need for a framework of pluralistic
    theology.

    In a constructive worldview: east, west, and far-east religions present a threefold understanding of One God manifest primarily in Muslim and Hebrew intuition of the Deity Absolute, Christian and Krishnan Hindu conception of the Universe Absolute
    Supreme Being; and Shaivite Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist apprehension of the
    Destroyer (meaning also Consummator), Unconditioned
    Absolute, or Spirit of All That Is and is not. Together with their
    variations and combinations in other major religions, these religious ideas
    reflect and express our collective understanding of God, in an expanded concept
    of the Holy Trinity.

    The Trinity Absolute is portrayed in the logic of world religions, as follows:

    1. Muslims and Jews may be said to worship only the
    first person of the Trinity, i.e. the existential Deity Absolute Creator, known
    as Allah or Yhwh, Abba or Father (as Jesus called him), Brahma, and other
    names; represented by Gabriel (Executive Archangel), Muhammad and Moses (mighty
    messenger prophets), and others.

    2. Christians and Krishnan Hindus may be said to worship the first person through a second person, i.e. the experiential Universe or “Universal” Absolute
    Supreme Being (Allsoul or Supersoul), called Son/Christ or Vishnu/Krishna;
    represented by Michael (Supreme Archangel), Jesus (teacher and savior of
    souls), and others. The Allsoul is that gestalt of personal human consciousness, which we
    expect will be the “body of Christ” (Mahdi, Messiah, Kalki or
    Maitreya) in the second coming – personified in history by Muhammad, Jesus
    Christ, Buddha (9th incarnation of Vishnu), and others.

    3. Shaivite Hindus, Buddhists, and Confucian-Taoists seem to venerate the synthesis of the first and second persons in a third person or appearance, ie. the Destiny Consummator of ultimate reality – unqualified Nirvana consciousness – associative Tao of All That Is – the absonite* Unconditioned Absolute
    Spirit “Synthesis of Source and Synthesis,”** who/which is logically expected
    to be Allah/Abba/Brahma glorified in and by union with the Supreme Being –
    represented in religions by Gabriel, Michael, and other Archangels, Mahadevas,
    Spiritpersons, etc., who may be included within the mysterious Holy Ghost.

    Other strains of religion seem to be psychological
    variations on the third person, or possibly combinations and permutations of
    the members of the Trinity – all just different personality perspectives on the
    Same God. Taken together, the world’s major religions give us at least two
    insights into the first person of this thrice-personal One God, two perceptions
    of the second person, and at least three glimpses of the third.

    * The ever-mysterious Holy Ghost or Unconditioned Spirit is neither absolutely infinite, nor absolutely finite, but absonite; meaning neither existential nor experiential, but their
    ultimate consummation; neither fully ideal nor totally real, but a middle path
    and grand synthesis of the superconscious and the conscious, in consciousness of the unconscious.

    ** This conception is so strong because somewhat as the Absonite Spirit
    is a synthesis of the spirit of the Absolute and the spirit of the Supreme,
    so it would seem that the evolving Supreme Being may himself also be a
    synthesis or “gestalt” of humanity with itself, in an Almighty Universe
    Allperson or Supersoul. Thus ultimately, the Absonite is their Unconditioned
    Absolute Coordinate Identity – the Spirit
    Synthesis of Source and Synthesis – the metaphysical Destiny
    Consummator of All That Is.

    After the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions, perhaps the most subtle expression and comprehensive symbol of the 3rd person of the Trinity is the Tao; involving the harmonization of “yin and yang” (great opposing
    ideas indentified in positive and negative, or otherwise contrasting terms). In
    the Taoist icon of yin and yang, the s-shaped line separating the black and
    white spaces may be interpreted as the Unconditioned
    “Middle Path” between condition and conditioned opposites, while the circle
    that encompasses them both suggests their synthesis in the Spirit of the “Great
    Way” or Tao of All That Is.

    If the small black and white circles or “eyes” are taken to represent a nucleus of truth in both yin and yang, then the metaphysics of this symbolism fits nicely with the
    paradoxical mystery of the Christian Holy
    Ghost; who is neither the spirit of the one nor the spirit of the other,
    but the Glorified Spirit proceeding
    from both, taken altogether – as one entity – personally distinct from his
    co-equal, co-eternal and fully coordinate co-sponsors, who differentiate from
    him, as well as mingle and meld in him.

    For more details, please see: http://www.religiouspluralism.ca

    Samuel Stuart Maynes