By Katherine Parker
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — As interfaith scholar Eboo Patel spoke about the importance of interfaith understanding at the President’s Associates Dinner on Monday evening, attendees said it was clear that his cause should be their cause.
Patel said college campuses have always been a place of diversity. A student’s best friend could be a Kappa, a roommate could be from a town so small there is only one stoplight, a study partner could be Catholic, and a favorite professor could speak six languages.
Patel described college campuses as the intersection of a window to the expanse of the world and depth of history and the road to passion and purpose.
“People do not magically come together. Bridges must be built,” Patel said, calling on the Norman community and the world to become activists of religious acceptance.
Patel, one of the nation’s leading scholars in religion and interfaith studies and founder of Interfaith Youth Core, did not always see interfaith acceptance as the center of diversity problems.
When Patel’s father told him that for all of the lectures on diversity he had given to his family on visits home from college, he had never mentioned religious diversity, this struck a cord with Patel. From that point on, he began to consider how the world is defined by religious turmoil.
“I found that my heart’s great gladness met the world’s great need when I built bridges between people who orient around religion differently,” Patel said.
Patel encouraged others to become interfaith leaders by telling stories of cooperation, shaping positive situations and articulating to the world why one’s religion finds interfaith work holy.
Patel emphasized making personal connections with others who are religiously diverse as a way to cure prejudice.
One attendee asked Patel what she could do as an OU student to create a more loving campus if she encountered negative religious interactions. Patel said to show that there is a positive religious interaction.
“Raise the volume of faith as a bridge of cooperation,” Patel said.
Although Patel conceded that tensions within the religious community are not a short-lived phenomenon, he said changing the idea that conflict is inevitable is possible so long as interfaith leaders focus on the resonance that religions share.
Patel reminded attendees that the spirit that this country belongs to all of us can be found in the words of Woody Guthrie: “This land is made for you and me.”
At the end of his speech, attendees honored Patel with roaring applause and the coming together of a sorority member, class president, professors, Muslims, Jews and more to sing the OU chant.