Student assembly brings interfaith leadership to Syracuse campus.
*This article is sponsored by Hendricks Chapel, a student-centered global home for religious, spiritual, moral and ethical life at Syracuse University.
The smells of curry, cumin and fresh roti drifted through the grand hall of the Toronto Metro Convention Center, inviting curious eyes and noses. Beyond the doors, folks of diverse backgrounds, ages and races shuffled off their shoes, and participants draped their heads with scarves and bandanas. Simple signs of respect for the great service they were about to receive.
The word about this experience had spread quickly: “Have you heard of the Langar?” “Did you eat at the Langar yet?” “You really can’t leave without experiencing it.”
Langar, which technically means “kitchen,” is a Sikh tradition of sharing food with the entire community, with doors and hearts open. Sikhism was just one of 118 spiritual and secular traditions present at the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions, represented by about 8,000 people from 81 different countries.
For a group of students from Syracuse University and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, this was the first time they had heard of the term Langar. But it quickly became an unforgettable moment of an already extraordinary experience in their lives — attending the week-long Parliament. In the months that have followed, they have used the inspiration to reinvigorate student interfaith life in Syracuse.
“I was inspired by how powerful religious identity was that it united so many people together,” said SU senior Dahabo Farah, a member of the Muslim Student Association.
Farah was one of six student delegates from SU’s Hendricks Chapel who attended the weekend segment
of the 2018 Parliament of the World’s Religions. These students, who attended the conference with Hendricks Chapel staff and chaplains, identified with five different faith and spiritual traditions, multiple student organizations and various academic majors.
The opportunity to support and send a cohort to the Parliament was, according to Hendricks Chapel Dean Brian Konkol, a direct expression of the chapel’s historic mission, vision and values.
“The Parliament of the World’s Religions seeks to cultivate harmony in order to sustain a more just, peaceful and sustainable world,” says Konkol. “Our support of this effort is rooted in our conviction that an education informed by multiple points of view, life experiences, ethnicities, cultures and belief systems is essential to academic excellence.”
Among other things, the Parliament was a moment of deep inspiration and cross-cultural connection for the students who attended.
Junjie “Rec” Ren, a SU junior who attended the conference, said he had a vague understanding of interfaith work before the Parliament, but the scope of what was discussed and debated at the conference showed him how powerful interfaith cooperation can be.
Over the course of the week, major global interfaith leaders shared their deep convictions on topics including climate action, indigenous rights, youth empowerment and countering violence. Ultimately, they all agreed:
If faith leaders worked together towards progress, people of faith can change the world.
Ren, Farah and the other students who attended the conference were inspired to bring that mentality back to campus.
As representatives of different faiths, backgrounds and countries, they believed they could be a model for interfaith and intercultural cooperation that could be a force for change, like the Parliament.
With that in mind, the group decided to turn Hendricks Chapel’s student interfaith group, previously known as the Spiritual Life Council, into SAIL — the Student Assembly of Interfaith Leaders.
All those who attended the Parliament are involved with SAIL. They see its core mission as modeling interfaith community, developing leadership opportunities, and advising the staff and chaplains of Hendricks Chapel. If they can pursue such aims on campus, Ren said, then they can start to work together to tackle bigger issues.
One of the goals of SAIL is to have representation from all of the 28 religious life groups of Hendricks Chapel. “Whatever I think other people believe, practice or do, that’s not usually the case,” Ren, also the vice president of the Student Buddhist Association, said. “That’s not how they actually, in reality, live. It’s a breaking down of stereotypes, or a breaking down of expectations — what you expect other people to be. Instead, you just welcome whatever they are.”
At its core, SAIL is a group of friends. They laugh, share stories and talk about life. Most importantly, they learn about each other beyond the stereotypes of their visible identities.
SAIL is open to all students, said Dallin Evans, a third year SU graduate student and member of SAIL representing the Latter-day Saint Student Association. Whether you study at SU or SUNY-ESF, are spiritual or secular, or anything between, you’re welcome to join a fun group of friends who teach and inspire each other.
“I love making friends that have other religious affiliations than my own, and have learned so much from them,” said Evans. “I also think it is a great resource for others like me who seek a haven for spiritual expressions.”
For more information on the Student Assembly of Interfaith Leaders (SAIL), please contact Junjie “Rec” Ren at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Delaney Van Wey serves as the communications specialist for Hendricks Chapel at Syracuse University.