Students to travel to London for ‘Many Faiths, One Humanity’
A diverse group of Syracuse University students from different faith traditions will spend their spring break in London exploring the rich and complex dynamics of life in a global, religiously plural city.
The “Many Faiths, One Humanity: Interfaith Travel Study Experience” will bring together 11 students from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan faith traditions. The students will depart Syracuse on March 13 and return on March 22. They will be accompanied by Tiffany Steinwert, dean of Hendricks Chapel; Jikyo Bonnie Shoultz, Buddhist chaplain; Mary Hudson, Pagan chaplain; Asim Mohammed, Muslim mentor; Ginny Yerdon, Hendricks Chapel’s special events coordinator; and Anne Beffel, Hendricks Chapel’s artist in residence.
A blog, http://onehumanity.syr.edu, has been established for family, friends and members of the SU community to follow along on the trip. Members of the group will share their experiences through writings and photos.
Working alongside Beffel, the students will use video and photography to discover different perspectives through the simple act of slowing down. They will make images of daily scenes as they travel, ranging from those that inspire awe to those that compel us to transform our world. These images will allow students to share their perspectives with one another and those they meet as they travel in London.
“Making art and talking about it allows students to attempt to step into one another’s shoes, and try on each other’s perspectives, to the extent possible,” says Beffel.
“The Contemplative Video Project presented a perfect fit for students from several different faith traditions who are traveling to sites imbued with sometimes conflicting histories and values,” says Steinwert. “These videos will provide the foundation for constructive interreligious engagement, both while abroad and when we return to Syracuse.
“Through the literal and metaphorical lenses of these 11 students, we will be able to share with others a glimpse of our experience and provide the wider community a window into the world of dialogue, art and peaceful communication,” she says.
While in London, the students will be able to post their videos on a Mindful Connections website, which is currently in the Beta testing phase. After the trip, the students will pair up and use one another’s London videos as points of inspiration to make “response videos.” The original and response videos will be paired and viewed side by side in a split-screen format as a single, collaborative work. The juxtaposition of the two related but different perspectives will provide a platform for observing, comparing, discussing and understanding one another’s points of view.
The Mindful Connections website has been created by a team including School of Information Studies (iSchool) graduate students, undergraduate students in the School of Art and Design in the College of Visual and Performing Arts and the New York design firm Napkin, under the direction of Beffel and iSchool Assistant Professor of Practice Susan Dischiave. The project is funded by an Enitiative grant from the Kauffman Foundation. Students from the Institute of Technology of Syracuse Central High School and their teacher, Cheryl Molesky, have advised on the project and contributed videos created in contemplative video workshops led by Beffel. A link to this site will be made available to the public in the future.
Using art as a lens for meditation, the students will spend the first part of every morning of the trip centering themselves by taking contemplative videos in the surrounding neighborhood. This intentional practice of slowing down is designed to help students pay attention to the details of the trip. Their video and photographic images will be used to foster dialogue each evening as they discuss the day’s events.
Among the sites the participants will visit during the 10-day trip are the Bloomsbury area, the Imperial War Museum, a Zen garden, Notre Dame Church, the Buddhist Society, a Saudi school, an Islamic center, Whitechapel Gallery, Catholic Mass at St. Patrick’s Church, a Hindu temple, a Sikh temple, a concert at St. Ethelburgas, a Purim celebration at West London Synagogue and Avebury and Glastonbury.
Meg Callaghan of Merrick, N.Y., a freshman environmental studies major at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, says she is looking forward to her first trip abroad. “Experiencing another nation’s view on religious pluralism compared to my knowledge of similar cultures living in and around New York City is something that I am stoked to encounter,” she says. “One of my favorite ideas that we have discussed in meetings preparing us for the trip is the idea of unity without uniformity. The idea that all different types of people can live together somewhat peacefully is amazing to me. I definitely want to be a part of that.”
Upon returning, the students will create an interactive art installation at Hendricks Chapel that documents their experience through contemplative video. This art installation is part of the Sitting Still project that uses video and photography to look at the world from a nonviolent standpoint and to foster dialogue across difference.
The idea for “Many Faiths, One Humanity: Interfaith Travel Study Experience” was conceived by Thomas V. Wolfe, SU’s senior vice president and dean of student affairs, when he served as dean of Hendricks Chapel. “We wanted 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 toward understanding and cooperation.” The first trip took place in 2003, when students travelled to Spain. Since then students have travelled to Turkey (2007) and Jerusalem (2009).
The trip is designed not as a short-term, feel good experience in “getting along,” but as an invitation to do the hard work of continuing dialogue, cooperation and respect that is a lifetime experience. Through this program students learn to build intentional and constructive relationships across difference. The hope is that this experience will inspire students to imagine new ways of being that break down destructive barriers of prejudice, stereotypes and mistrust.