By Ellie Gavin || Campus Life Editor
Last Thursday, F&M’s Interfaith Council hosted a dinner and discussion on religion and politics. Attendees enjoyed free dinner catered by Flora’s, were offered guided discussion questions, to be discussed in small groups, about their thoughts on religion in the upcoming election. Three F&M professors also addressed the attendees. Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Government Charles “Chaz” Phillips, Visiting Assistant Professor of Religious Studies Shobhana S. Xavier, and The Honorable & Mrs. John C. Kunkel Professor of Government Stephen Medvic. The discussion ended with an informal question-answer between attendees and the professors who spoke.
Sophomore Julia Ramsey, a member of the interfaith council, says that the council hosted the event because wanted to create “a safe place to practice the art of disagreement”.
“We noticed that religion and politics, and especially their intersection, are topics that are not easy to discuss. They can be deeply personal, and greatly influence our lives and society,” Ramsey said. “There a wide range of opinions on the topic, and it can be hard to talk about. The purpose of holding the event was simply to create a space for this discussion to happen, as it is something that affects all of us, no matter how religious or political we may be.”
The discussions focused on broad questions like how much of a role religion should have in politics, how much it influences a person’s decision making, and if there is even a difference between religious views and political ones.
Each professor in attendance gave a short talk to the group on their views on the subject from an academic perspective. In her talk, Professor Xavier mentioned that the extent to which religion is a factor in American politics is somewhat unique to our country, and that discussing religion in politics is more “taboo” in other places. She asked the group to think about the link between religion and “Americanness,” and how that affects our politics. Students were encouraged to think about these questions and more, and had then had the chance to discuss them openly and informally with those at their dinner table.
“Discussions like these help us all broaden our worldview. Being able to listen to someone with a different opinion or experience is an invaluable skill. Not only to they give the opportunity to hear other perspectives, but to also help people better understand their own opinions,” Ramsey said. “Personally, I didn’t realize exactly how I felt about some of the topics we discussed until I had to articulate it to someone else.”
In addition to helping shape individual views, Ramsey feels that forums like these open up a dialogue on Campus about things that are going on outside the “F&M bubble”.
“These events help our learn about current events/topics, which is invaluable as we are all members of this society and F&M isn’t an isolated bubble, no matter how much it feels like one sometimes,” Ramsey said. “Also, some people may be in a major or class that spends time discussing current issues, but many of us are not. These events create an environment that is not so rigidly academic, and more student directed.”
Ramsey says that the Interfaith Council hopes to host more events like these in the future, and that all who are interested are welcome to come to the council’s weekly meetings. Interfaith Council meets at 5pm on Thursdays in the Armstrong room on the second floor of the Steinman College
Sophomore Ellie Gavin is the Campus Life Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.