WCR PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Brittney White, director of campus ministry at St. Joseph's College at the UofA, is one of the driving forces behind the scriptural reasoning interfaith dialogue group on campus.
In a bid to engage religious and intellectual diversity, chaplains at the University of Alberta have launched an interfaith dialogue among people of different faiths on campus.
So far three dialogues have been held on the topics of beauty, hospitality and suffering. Panelists reflect on the chosen topic from their own faith perspective, then dialogue among themselves before opening the floor to questions from the wider group.
Representatives of the United, Anglican, Unitarian, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim communities have so far reflected on the topics through a scripture or reading from their own faith context. Catholics have participated in the dialogue but have not yet presented.
"The first thing we claim is that we are not experts on the subject area. So part of interfaith dialogue is that we speak from our own perspective as human beings within a faith context," explains Brittney White.
White is director of campus ministry at St. Joseph's University College and vice-chair of the Interfaith Chaplains Association at the U of A.
White describes interfaith dialogue as a means of creating peace and understanding and right relationships with one another. She maintains that without dialogue, it is virtually impossible to create a shared set of values.
"Dialogue is important so that we don't merely tolerate our brothers and sisters but rather engage their hearts as a means of fostering real relationships that will cultivate peace."
At their dialogues, the university chaplains don't engage similarity but rather difference in order to better understand their neighbour's faith.
"We try to focus on the differences because we don't want to cultivate an atmosphere of just tolerance. We want to cultivate an atmosphere where we deeply understand each other's hearts so that people can enter into a relationship, into friendship and ultimately community with one another," White says.
"A lack of openness to another's faith is almost dangerous in this day and age because intolerance has the potential to reduce the humanness of the other and there can be consequences when we reduce the humanness of anyone."
Conscious of their call to meet the spiritual needs of students and support for the integral development of the human person, chaplains searched for ways to fulfil their role.
"This year the Anglican chaplain, the Christian Reformed chaplain and I began to talk about what it means to be an interfaith chaplain and one of the things that we said is to be in dialogue with people of other faiths and especially amongst the chaplains," explained White.
They researched several methods of interfaith dialogue and decided to use a modified version of scriptural reasoning, a method developed by Dr. David Ford of Cambridge University. Scriptural reasoning involves participants from multiple religious traditions meeting, often in small groups, to read and discuss passages from their sacred texts.
"So we have modified scriptural reasoning, and we just call it interfaith dialogue here on campus. But we use the rules of scriptural reasoning to facilitate the dialogue between the faiths," explains White.
Even though last semester they only had three dialogues, the goal is to have four per semester.
"It's a small group of people that gathers, mostly chaplains and people within the university community – grad students, professors and a few external people."
The first semester the chaplains didn't promote the dialogues much.
"It was kind of a pilot to see how the dialogue would go before we started really opening it up to students," says White. "So next semester we will be really pushing or will be opening it up to the student community. They were never excluded from it, but we didn't give a strong push yet."
The next dialogue will be held Jan. 23 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Interfaith Chapel on the third floor of the Students' Union Building.
The Chaplains' Association has partnered with a number of groups and individuals to bring the dialogues to the university, including the Chester Ronning Learning Centre, the dean of students at the U of A, the department of religion, St. Joseph's College and the Interfaith Centre for Education and Action.