This past Thursday, author Eboo Patel came to campus to discuss the message behind his memoir, Acts of Faith, which served as the First-Year Experience (FYE) summer reading book for the Class of 2015.
Each year, the first-year summer reading book is selected off of a short-list of books recommended by the FYE Advisory Board, led by Dean of First-Year Students and Dean of the College Beverly Low. Throughout the past several years, the selected readings have focused on the theme of diversity. Last year, incoming first-year students read Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers. The year before, the Class of 2013 read Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. Patel’s Acts of Faith had a similar focus.
“Recent book selections have all approached questions of diversity from various perspectives. Eboo Patel’s memoir presents his experiences with and reflections on negotiating religious diversity in ways that we found compelling,” Chair of the FYE, Global Engagements and Core Distinction Programs, Director of LGBTQ Studies and Professor of Mathematics Ken Valente said.
Acts of Faith promotes cooperation among people of different faiths through what Patel describes as an “interfaith dialogue.” Coincidentally or not, Acts of Faith was selected on the year marking the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Many students find that the message speaks louder than ever in light of this anniversary.
“Patel’s message is definitely pertinent to our time today, especially with the anniversary of 9/11,” first-year John Murphy said Thursday. “It’s about acknowledging our similarities without ignoring our differences.”
First-year Sagar Saxena, who was born and raised in India and identifies as a Hindu, came to the United States for his first time at the beginning of the school year and believes that Patel’s message is particularly important for Americans.
“In India, there is a very homogeneous society where interfaith dialogue is instinctive and comes more naturally,” Saxena said after Patel’s lecture.
“The United States, however, is much more diverse and a very real faith divide exists.”
“We’re probably the most religiously diverse society in the history of the world,” Patel stated Thursday. “The question is whether or not religion is going to continue to be a barrier to communication or a bridge to cooperation.”
Patel believes that the engine of the interfaith movement belongs to the youth. He finds it no coincidence that acts of religious extremism are predominantly conducted by young people.
Of the nineteen 9/11 terrorists, Patel notes that all but one of them were in their twenties. Similarly, the 1993 World Trade Center bombings were carried out mainly by terrorists in their late-twenties and early thirties. The Oklahoma City bombing that occurred two years later was carried out by a 27 year-old. Therefore, when Patel discusses an interfaith dialogue, he focuses especially on the youth.
While speaking to hundreds of students packed into the Memorial Chapel, Patel described the molding that takes place in college and how so much of what we think, say and do throughout the rest of our lives often relates back to our college years. To promote an interfaith dialogue and to increase religious tolerance throughout the world, Patel stated that simply reading Acts of Faith is not enough.
“The success of this book does not come from simply reading it, but by having pen and paper next to you and writing a similar story of your own,” Patel said.
Here at Colgate, there are several groups that have already begun to do just that.
“We’ve actually been involved in the interfaith dialogue here at Colgate for quite some time,” University Chaplain and Catholic Campus Minister Mark Shiner said.
Shiner was a big advocate in getting Patel to speak on campus. He is also involved in running one of Colgate’s most prominent interfaith groups, the Heretics Club. The Heretics Club brings together students of all faiths, races and backgrounds to promote a discussion amongst people of different beliefs. It is these types of interactions that Patel has spent his life trying to create.
In 1998, Patel created the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), which aims to build a movement of young people of all faiths and traditions. When President Obama came into office in 2009, Patel became a member of his Advisory Council on Faith- Based Neighborhood Partnerships. Patel believes that now more than ever, the world needs to build bridges of cooperation among people of different faiths, but he notes that one person cannot accomplish it alone.
“Bridges cannot fall from the sky,” Patel said. “People need to build them.”
Contact Cody Semrau at [email protected]