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Interfaith Harmony Week promotes the art of listening to others’ stories

Tatyana Gonzalez ’24 speaks to her fellow students during an Interfaith Storytelling as part of Interfaith Harmony Week, as Vaughn CroweTipton, university chaplain (far left), and Alexis Carter Thomas, associate chaplain (far right) look on.

Last updated February 13, 2024

By Furman News

Disha Patel ’25 said she stopped believing in God at age 4, about the time her parents left for the U.S., leaving her and her brother to be raised by her grandmother in India. At age 12, after several years of only seeing her parents over Facetime, she visited the village her father came from. There, an older woman told her that as a daughter of the village, Patel could have her prayer answered by the god of the village temple.

“I thought, ‘I don’t have anything to lose,’” she told the group of students gathered for the Interfaith Storytelling event during Furman’s observance of Interfaith Harmony Week, Feb. 5-9. “The only thing I had to lose were my parents, and I hadn’t seen them for about eight years. So I told her (the village god) that if I could see my parents once before I turned 16, I would walk the 80 kilometers to her temple from our city home.”

She knew she would have to deliver on her promise when her mother picked her up from school one day when she was 14. Last summer, she walked the 80 kilometers – and she reconnected with her Hindu faith on the pilgrimage.

Patel’s story was one of many shared during the event, which brought together students from several faith traditions to openly discuss their own divine moments and sacred spaces. Conversations like those were one of the main aims of Interfaith Harmony Week, said Sabrina Strickland-Harris ’24, president of Furman’s Interfaith Youth Coalition.

“I love that Furman promotes dialogue among students, but I think there is also so much value in just listening to the stories of others without passing judgment,” said Strickland-Harris, who was raised religiously but describes herself as “spiritual” now. “Interfaith has members who are Buddhist, Southern Baptist, Catholic and atheist, among others. We all, no matter our background, often have much in common.”

The General Assembly of the United Nations established World Interfaith Harmony Week in 2010, said Alexis Carter Thomas, Furman’s associate chaplain, at the storytelling event. “Since then, it’s been an annual observance where people come to spread the message of harmony and tolerance, among the followers of all world religions, faith and beliefs.”

Intergroup dialogue is essential to “promote the common basis of love of God, love of good and love of neighbor,” she said. “Its message invites everyone, excludes no one and is purely voluntary.”

Fostering the art of listening is key to the mission of Interfaith Harmony Week, said Miranda Lowe, building coordinator and office manager for Furman’s Office of Spiritual Life and advisor to the Interfaith Youth Coalition, and it was a major component of both the storytelling gathering and another event, a collaboration with local organization My Neighbor’s Voice, a group dedicated to creating events in which to share personal stories, thoughts and opinions about how to best live together.

During a moderated discussion in the Trustees Dining Room, a group made up mostly of Furman students, faculty and staff used the questions on a set of “listening cards” from My Neighbor’s Voice to prompt conversations about faith.

“You’re not formulating a response in your head while you’re listening; you’re just listening,” said Lowe. “A big goal of it is to make sure that we give people the opportunity to have their own opinion and feel safe in having that opinion.”

“All are welcome in Interfaith regardless of their background or current faith beliefs,” said Strickland-Harris. “We invite people who are questioning their faith or people who are solidly planted in their beliefs.”

“Interfaith encourages the ability to listen and communicate across differences,” said Lila Dawson ’26, a member of the group’s executive council. “My vision for Interfaith is that the group will continue to foster pluralism on campus and encourage exploration of ideas different from those one may have started college with.”

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