Last Saturday, Student Association and Malaysian Student Association hosted the TU Interfaith Tour. A group of around 45 students and representatives from various organizations went to different religious buildings on campus, learning about the ideologies practiced there and the importance of tolerance.
The event started in Sharp Chapel, with SA Chair of Multiculturalism and Diversity Kyla Sloan and TU Vice President for Diversity and Engagement Jacqueline Caldwell giving opening statements. They took time to thank students for attending, and reminded them to be respectful of others and that they need not participate in practices they feel uncomfortable in.
After the introductions, the event began with a presentation on Judaism. Andrew Spector, with Hillel of Northeastern Oklahoma, and Lilly Kopita, TU student and President of University of Tulsa Hillel, gave an explanation of the Shabbat (their weekly day of rest) and the importance of the idea of selflessness in Judaism. Kopita and Spector then presented their personal stories of their lives with Judaism, the latter giving an impassioned spoken word poem he wrote in Israel.
After the personal stories were accounted, Kopita and Spector gave the audience what they called a “mini-Shabbat experience.” They walked students through the process of lighting candles and partaking of wine (or grape juice, in this case) and bread on the evening of Shabbat. After the presentation ended, Sloan awarded the Hillel group with a plaque thanking them for their commitment to bridging cultures and promoting religious understanding.
After learning about Judaism, there was a short presentation on Hinduism. It began with listening to a section of “Ekadantaya Vakratundaya,” an example of carnatic music by Shankar Mahadevan. This genre originated in India and is known for its elaborate scales and rhythms. Afterwards, the presenters discussed the major tenets of Hinduism and showed a video detailing the 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, one of the religion’s major texts. This section of the tour felt a bit rushed, as it didn’t go into nearly as much depth as other sections, or have a Q&A session. It felt much more like a rushed lecture than a conversation.
After the presentation on Hinduism, students walked to the University United Methodist Church to speak with a variety of members and staff, including TU student and Director of Youth Ministries Josie Worthington. The presentation featured a description of the four sides of “the Methodist quadrilateral” (scripture, tradition, experience, and reason), as well as a video slideshow of the UUMC’s annual and recent events.
The Methodist group seemed to have the longest timeslot for their session, as they went into a fairly lengthy Q&A session. This included a full runthrough of a standard Sunday service and a description of the building’s beautiful stained-glass windows. The event concluded with UUMC staff, as well as Sloan and Malaysian Student Association President Reeza Rosnan, leading the students in singing “Let There Be Peace On Earth.” This hymn was particularly fitting, they noted, as last Wednesday, September 21, was the International Day of Peace.
After the conclusion of the Methodist segment of the tour, students walked to the TU Catholic Newman Center. This demonstration was the most literal of the tour, with the Chaplain, Father Brian Ketterer, taking students through a shortened and explained version of what they would experience at a typical Sunday mass. This included many students participating in prayers and songs, with an accompanying piano performance from TU student Jacob Schwartz.
After the condensed runthrough, Father Ketterer broke down his typical mass and emphasized how many points were centered around peace for all, expressing a desire for the love and safety of the church to go out into the rest of the world. Afterwards, there was a fairly lengthy Q&A session where Father Ketterer addressed topics like sainthood, the significance of praying five times a day and exorcism.
After the Newman Center finished their portion of the tour, students went to their final stop at the University Mosque. Women were offered hijabs before entering, and students were asked to remove their shoes in the first room before going any further. When entering the room, the men were asked to sit in front of the women (the reason given was that worship involves a lot of movement and seeing women bending over may distract men from focusing on their worship).
The session began with a reading of a section of the Quran in Arabic, with English translations projected on a wall beside the reader. Afterwards, a presentation was given on the major ideological concepts of Islam and debunking misconceptions about the religion, such as all Muslims residing in the Middle-East.
After the presentation was an example of prayer sung by TU student Danish Zuhaidi. The session ended with a Q&A, that was tragically short due to time constraints. This was especially disappointing because, at least for me and I assume for others, Islam was the religion I knew the least about. Thankfully, the Q&A session was allowed to go a few minutes over and a couple more questions were answered during the lunch held at the Newman Center. I still felt the section was unfortunately short, given how important Islam is in current political rhetoric and how much disagreement there is on whether it is an inherently violent belief.
Despite some issues with timing, I learned a lot from the TU Interfaith Tour. As someone whose religious experiences included an incredibly biased Bible History class in high school and becoming an ordained minister online, there were beliefs presented in this tour that I had never come in contact with before coming to TU. One of the questions on the evaluation sheet for the event was “Should this become an annual event?” and I definitely think it should. This tour allows students to gain precious religious perspective, encourages questions and conversation, and focuses on an overall ability for all to coexist.