Author: Revd Dr Alastair Kirk
Date: 20 May 2014
One of the most exciting and cutting edge places to work as an Inter Faith Advisor is in the context of Universities. I have been working at the University of Warwick for just over four years as the Anglican Chaplain, but for the majority of that time, I have also been Inter Faith Advisor for Coventry Diocese. Being part of the Chaplaincy team, which is supported by Christians, Jews and Muslims, in one of the most global Universities in the UK (a third of Warwick students are international) is an exceptional privilege. Every day one is confronted with students encountering and intersecting with the other; different denominations, different faith communities and well as the faith/non-faith divide.
Two of the most interesting projects that have emerged in the last few years have been the speed-networking events and the dialogues around science and faith. Speed networking might sound a bit trite and cheesy, but for young people of different faiths it was really successful. It needs ground rules that encourage those participating to share what their faith means to them rather than polemic or doctrinal arguments. They have 5 minutes each to share something and then to listen to the other before moving on to talk to someone else. I was most excited at one event when the president of the Christian Union and president of the Islamic Society were sharing their faith stories together. It might only be five minutes, but that sort of interaction breaks down stereotypes and creates the opportunity for friendship.
The second initiative was a dialogue that I ran last year with the Islamic Society around our understandings of the relationship between science and faith. I spoke for twenty minutes, quoting among others the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, followed by a Muslim speaker. We had a fascinating mix of Christians and Muslims engaging in conversation about how our rigorousness as academics in no way undermines our faith and visa versa. The most interesting aspect of the conversation was the similarity of our views which was a real eye-opener to many of those in the audience.
Both these examples encourage the building of bridges and appreciating the need to live well together in our plural world. Chaplains can often be the facilitators of such engagement – engagement that will not just influence situations here in the UK, but across the world. My latest Scriptural Reasoning group has British Jews, Muslims from the UK, Syria, Egypt, Mauritania and Indonesia and Christians from the UK, the States, Colombia, Belarus and Barbados! What a joy!