On September 3, more than 400 students, faculty and members of the community gathered in the Utah Valley University grand ballroom to hear Eboo Patel speak on interfaith cooperation at the annual presidential lecture.
The address began after the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the university’s new reflection center, which will provide students with a place to pray and meditate as well as will promote respectful inter-religious dialogue.
Patel discussed religious diversity in America, why universities should lead, and what it means to do well in the spectrum of religious inclusiveness.
“If you want a great city, build a great university and wait a century,” said Patel. “One of the things that is so important about what you’re doing at Utah Valley University is you’re integrating a reflection center, grounded in your values of inclusion and wellness, with an academic program. You are defining part of being an educated person as having some degree of literacy in the great religious traditions and practices of large, religious communities that make up our country and our world.”
“Universities are laboratories and launching pads for the future,” said Patel. He urged students to take advantage of the university and the resources it offers students and urged the university to continue to take the identities of the students, cultivate positive relationships between those identities and commit to the common good.
Utah is the third fastest growing state in the nation (by percentage), according to a population study released by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel in 2012. UVU, along with Weber State University, Dixie State University and Salt Lake Community College, are designated ‘growth universities,’ and expected to be able to envelop the growth.
“As Utah diversifies, as America diversifies, we want them to know that Utah Valley University is the place for them,” said Patel. He quoted Robert Putnam, a Harvard professor and political scientist and said, “The one thing that we can safely say about every society, is that it will be more diverse than it is today.”
As 80% of the population at the university self-identifies as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, according to the university ombudsman’s survey, Patel mentioned the similarities between the religion and his own, muslim. He acknowledged that there will be irreconcilable differences between religions, but that those differences don’t require tension.
“I have unbelievable admiration and appreciation for the LDS tradition,” said Patel, who also referenced his LDS girlfriend from high school.
Students have the opportunity to learn about various religions on campus through the religious studies minor and the inter-religious engagement program. There will continue to be more lectures and events to promote religious inclusiveness.
UVU President Matthew Holland, who has emphasized religious inclusiveness, also spoke briefly on historical religious diversity, as well as the direction he would like to see the future take.
“There has to be a fusion in our civic life, in our religious life and in our social life, where we are comfortable with each other, talking about those things that do bond us, acknowledging the things that do separate us, and civically finding our way forward to navigate social success and a more harmonious environment to pursue the things that we all individually want to pursue,” said Holland.
Patel also spoke at Utah State University on the same topic of interfaith cooperation on Thursday, September 4, at 7:00 p.m.
Tiffany is the Deputy Managing Editor for Spring 2015. Follow her on twitter @tiffany_mf