Eboo Patel, Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit organization that works to make interfaith a social norm in America, delivered a talk at the intersection of Black History Month and United Nations (UN) Interfaith Harmony Week in the last All-School Meeting (ASM) of the 2020-2021 Winter Term on February 8.
In the opening of ASM, Head of School Dr. Raynard Kington expressed his delight to finally converse with Patel.
“I have heard about Dr. Patel for years now and it is great to finally connect. He has been a leading voice in religious diversity and civic engagement. He understands the importance of engaging young people in conversations that will shape our future. Diversity is an expansive concept and faith plays an important role in shaping our faith systems. It also impacts how we live in our community and how we view the world so we are delighted to have this conversation with Dr. Patel,” said Kington.
A multitude of countries celebrate UN Interfaith Harmony Week during the first week of February, consisting of events exploring the love of God and goodness. Meanwhile, Black History Month lasts for the entirety of February in the United States and Canada.
During the overlap of these two major celebrations, Patel presented an interdisciplinary talk that combined the recognition of various figures in the Civil Rights Movement and religious values that the movement was founded upon. Specifically, Patel acknowledges the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., not only as a social activist and a higher education scholar, but as a Reverend.
“Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. once said that ‘Many people want to make of me many things, but at the deep recesses of my heart, I am a Baptist minister, I am the son of a Baptist minister, I am the grandson of a Baptist minister, I am the great-grandson of a Baptist minister. My highest commitment is to Jesus and the living God,’” said Patel.
Patel explains that King’s journey was an interfaith journey and that his commitment to nonviolence throughout his life was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, a revered political ethicist, who was not Christian like King, but Hindu. Patel continued by unpacking what it means to be an interfaith leader.
“Can I help make faith a bridge of cooperation and not a barrier of division, not a bunker of isolation, not a bulge of domination? That is what it means to be an interfaith leader,” said Patel.
As a proud Muslim, Patel highlights the importance of recognizing shared values across different religions and identifying ethics in religions that are not your own. He believes that schools should help guide the next generation of leaders to recognize and achieve this.
Patel said, “We need to have an appreciation of knowledge, positive attitudes, welcoming relationships of people of all different identities, whether that is gays and lesbians, Indians or Chinese, Republicans, and Democrats, or Muslims, Hindus, Jews, or Christians… Learning about religious diversity is part of the definition of being an educated person.”
Mary Kantor, Catholic Chaplain, has been hoping to invite Patel to Andover since 2015 and was excited to finally align opportunities of funding and interest to organize this event. They believe that as diversity and inclusion training is becoming more prevalent around the country, there is little focus on religious and spiritual diversity.
“As the national and local conversations, resources, and training have grown around diversity over the last years, one element of identity has been less addressed in these diversity conversations: one’s religious, spiritual, or ethical identity––the worldview that may shape one’s entire life. Like gender, race, and ethnic identity, one’s worldview or faith is an aspect of identity that can’t be separated out from the rest of one’s identity,” wrote Kantor in an email to The Phillipian.
Kantor hopes that the talk sparks new conversations across campus, among both students and faculty. She was impressed by the student questions that poured in towards the end of the session, which was facilitated by student interfaith leaders on campus.
Students such as Elyse Goncalves ’23 enjoyed learning about how she, as an individual, can become more engaged in interfaith conversations.
“I really enjoyed Monday’s ASM. I thought it brilliantly spoke on inclusion and unification through interfaith conversation, both on the historical and the current interpersonal level. I enjoyed hearing about ways in which I can become a better citizen in interfaith conversation,” said Goncalves.