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Muslim, Christian and Jewish SU students will to travel to Turkey to study how diverse faith traditions share life together
Muslim, Christian and Jewish SU students will to travel to Turkey to study how diverse faith traditions share life togetherFebruary 27, 2007Kelly Homan Rodoskikahoman@syr.edu
A diverse group of Syracuse University students from different faith traditions will spend their Spring Break in a unique way — by traveling to Turkey to study how Muslim, Christian and Jewish peoples have co-existed in the region throughout history and continue to today.
The idea for the trip — “Three Faiths, One Humanity: Interfaith Travel Study Experience to Turkey” — was conceived by the Rev. Thomas V. Wolfe, dean of SU’s Hendricks Chapel. “We want to put a human face on the issues of how diverse faith communities have historically shared and continue to share life together,” Wolfe says. “On campus and beyond, we hope our experience will increase awareness of the three faith traditions’ contemporary issues and spark renewed dialogue towards understanding and cooperation.”
The students — seven Muslim, six Christian and five Jewish — will travel to Turkey on Thursday, March 8. They will be accompanied by Wolfe; Muslim chaplain Ahmed Kobeisy; Lowell Lustig, executive director of Hillel at Syracuse University; the Rev. Kelly Sprinkle, Protestant chaplain; and Ginny Yerdon, Hendricks Chapel’s special events coordinator. The group will return to Syracuse on March 16. While in Turkey, the students will share their experience through written journal entries, audio clips and photographs at a special website (http://hendricks.syr.edu/turkey) that will go live March 5.
Student selection for the trip began nearly a year ago. To be considered, students were required to write essays outlining their connection to their own faith commitments and how they imagined drawing from that to participate in meaningful interfaith dialogue. Preparation for the trip has included visits to religious sites in Syracuse representing each faith tradition, lectures from SU professors on the history of the region and contemporary Turkey, and discussions with members of the Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue group.
The students accepted into the program are well formed in their own faith traditions and yet are curious about people of other faiths, and thus become each other’s teachers, says Wolfe.
“This curiosity leads them to explore deeper connections with those individuals,” he says. “A participant needs to be able to stand next to a person of another faith with genuine respect. We seek to accomplish in the program what cannot be accomplished in other areas of our globe.”
The weeklong itinerary includes tours of mosques, churches, synagogues and other sites in Istanbul and Izmir that have significance within the faith traditions. The group will visit the Sulemaniye Mosque and surrounding charitable hospitals and kitchens that serve the Jewish, Christian and Muslim poor of Istanbul. Group members will also meet with interfaith groups and members of each faith tradition to hear their perspectives on how they co-exist with members of different faith traditions.
“In short, this trip is not designed as a short-term, feel-good experience in `getting along,’ but it’s an invitation to the hard work of continuing dialogue, cooperation and respect that is a lifetime experience,” Wolfe says. “We believe working together to become a people of faith who model increased understanding has the potential to make a human statement about living in a religiously diverse world.”
Wolfe wants students to come back from the trip inspired to work for change. “We expect students will bring home their knowledge and experience and become agents of transformation in Syracuse and any community in which they will live and work,” he says. “This experience of diversity contributes to developing skills that generalize to any diverse environment.”
Jonathan Preston, a Ph.D. student in speech pathology from Worcester, N.Y., and a member of the Christian faith tradition, believes Turkey will be a wonderful place to observe history, tradition and current religious practices in a different culture.
“This is a great chance for others in our area and around the world to see that we can be more tolerant — that we can be accepting of other religions, and that we can learn a great deal from others,” Preston says. “I am hoping this can be another step toward tearing down religious walls.”
Khuram Hussain, a graduate student in the School of Education and a member of the Muslim faith tradition, says he will bring back new experiences and strategies to use in an academic setting or in interfaith dialogue.
“I fear that if we fail to have real conversations between our respective religious identities that we are doomed to repeat the awful misunderstandings of the past,” Hussain says. “I hope this interfaith study experience will offer a depth of understanding through hands-on cooperation and exploration that is unattainable in any other way. It will be from experiences like these that my interfaith interactions might become profoundly sincere and thoughtful and my relationships transformative.”