Photo by Jonah Hokit

Politics and religion were discussed at length Thursday and Friday at the Symposium on Religious Pluralism and Democracy held in the Classroom Building in order to bring perspectives on the escalated violence against religious minorities that undermine core values, respect and interfaith dialogue.

More than six visiting professors from around the country came to lecture on issues of the intersection of religions, ethics and civic engagement.

“The inspiration for this event came from the need for students to recognize the critical intersections between religion and political culture,” Brian Birch, the Director for the Center for the Study of Ethics, said. “Recent debates surrounding immigration, religious freedom and other issues demonstrate the force of religious ideas in our public life.”

Students opinions about religious diversity on campus differed and were expressed as a result of the symposium.

“UVU tries to handle religious diversity properly but there is still such a heavy bias towards the LDS church,” Adara Owen, a junior integrated studies major, said. “Even in my biology class, there is clear intolerance of other beliefs. The culture that surrounds UVU is still certainly discriminatory of other religious beliefs.”

Jamie Christensen, a senior communication major, expressed that she does feel religious inclusivity on campus and notices that UVU students appear to be more open-minded and willing to discuss different faiths.

Gabriel Toscano, a senior philosophy and integrated studies major and co-president of the interfaith student council, also shared his opinion.

“People don’t feel very comfortable sharing their religiosity on UVU campus so there’s definitely something administration isn’t doing quite right,” Toscano said. “Although UVU is one of the most diverse schools in the region, people outside of the 80 percent LDS majority feel marginalized in this sense. I think the university needs to take diversity seriously in how staff and administration are selected. We need more people that are not LDS to have access to positions of influence in which their experience informs decisions.”

Visiting author and professor at George Mason Universities, Richard Rubenstein, gave his perspective on American civil religion and structural violence. He suggested that in order to resolve the problems that arise, we first need to stop talking about each other as if the problem is the bad character of the other party when it comes to an individual’s passion for righteousness, and begin to open the communication between tribes.

“[In the past, religion] didn’t use politics to try to impose their vision of a good life or their vision of right and wrong to people of other groups,” Rubenstein said. “[The problem stems from] refusal to accept the idea that religion is simply a matter between an individual and his or her god but rather that religion also is a body of beliefs and practices that prescribe certain attitudes and actions that regard to social justice, social values, family values and other matters that are public.”

The Center for the Study of Ethics is working with UVU Peace and Justice Studies, Religious Studies and the International Affairs & Diplomacy. They hope to give students opportunities to understand and make positive contributions towards peaceful and productive interfaith relationships.

UVU has been involved in the exploration of religious diversity and diplomacy for nearly twenty years and is committed to facilitating discourse and ideological divides across beliefs, according to the Center for the Study of Ethics department.