A Mormon, a Muslim, and a Methodist walk into a classroom…

Wednesday, August 24, UVU kicked off its first weekly inter-religious understanding lecture. This course is a series of lectures designed for students who are interested in cultivating tolerance toward people of all faiths and religions. While this is a wonderful and practical idea on paper, it begs the question: do lectures such as these increase religious tolerance or religious intolerance?

Utah is a predominantly Mormon state, and this is especially true here in “Happy Valley.” This fact alone drove the initial question, because some, but certainly not all, followers of the LDS faith can be a bit intolerant of other faiths and practices. This lecture was initially seen as carrying potential problems since LDS students would be interacting with other faiths. However, the lovely students attending the lecture series quickly proved this notion wrong.

Each student immediately explained what they enjoyed most about the class: open, honest discussions about differing faiths, which lead to their increased understanding and tolerance. Honestly, the discussion was amazing to witness, as each student was allowed to take their turn with no one interrupting or challenging their beliefs. In that moment, it truly was a safe space for any student to learn about another religion or culture.

The question presented at the beginning of this article seemed silly after attending for only a few minutes. Students who truly want to learn about another culture are capable of doing so if they learn to listen and respect the views of a fellow student. Besides, listening to a different religious view has never caused anyone serious harm.

What makes the course even better is the inclusion of Atheists and Agnostics in the religious discussion; and no, students do not try to convert them to a certain religion. Instead, individuals work together to gain a deeper understanding of themselves and their faiths.

It’s comforting to know that UVU truly values diversity, sponsors programs designed to increase religious tolerance and promotes open discussion of different cultures. Although some may argue that religion has no place in a scholarly setting, it is clear from watching the interactions of those students that college is exactly the place for it. It can be a safe place for students to discuss subjects that may be controversial as long as participants go with an open mind and a desire to learn.

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