Yesterday we visited the Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan. The Ginsberg Center is focused on community service and learning in particular interfaith action/dialogue. As part of their dedication to interfaith action, the center is active in bringing together various faith based groups on campus as well as students in order to discuss topics and misconceptions that in any other case would never be discussed. The interesting thing we learned about the University of Michigan is that as a public university the school does not have a religion major or religious study department. Classes in religious subjects are still taught but they are taught under a specific area study such as Asian studies. Students of all faiths sitting down together and discussing religion, bringing into question all the misconceptions people have of one another, and educating others about their religion is to me one of the principle ways that we will finally begin to break down the stereotypes that are continuously placed on various religions. As we travel along with Indonesian students we have learned more and more about the misconceptions both sides have about one another and where these misconceptions stem from. As we live and study with the Indonesian students, it is interesting to go back and forth and discuss the misconceptions that exist among people in our respective society. It is through this type of interaction that both American and Indonesian groups have developed a greater understanding and respect for the diversity in religion and culture that exist in society.
Today we had the opportunity to visit the museum of African American History in Detroit. The struggle of African Americans beginning with slavery to today’s issues with racism and stereotypes has been an intricate part of the development of American History. As we entered the museum and began learning about the history of African Americans starting in the continent of Africa and slavery, I began to think of the idea of multiculturalism and religion in the United States and how it has developed. Although in Indonesia we observed that the problem with multiculturalism, religion, and pluralism stems more from a religious aspect, in the United States most stem from racial tension that exists. Although we accept and recognize all types and forms of religion there is still a large issue of race and how it is dealt with today. For the Indonesian students learning about the history of African Americans gave them the other side of “democracy” in our country and the price and struggle for freedom that some of our citizens had to pay. They might have found it shocking for America a country that prides itself on “liberty and justice” for all to have such a dark history but I think it was key in understanding the overall idea of democracy and its development in the United states.
Until next time =)
Back in the United States! We are spending the next six days at the University of Michigan continuing our studies on religious pluralism, democracy, and multiculturalism. What is there to learn in Michigan about the subject? Quite a lot! The city of Dearborn, Michigan is home to one of the largest Muslim populations outside the Middle East. It is also home to many other religions which we will also be studying and comparing.
As part of our first activity we attended a non-denominational/Pentecostal church service yesterday. I say non-denominational because the church was open to people of all types of faiths. We were welcomed with open arms by the church staff eager to have us witness their service and the way they feel Christ should be praised. We were also greeted by the pastor who welcomed us to the church and made a clear point in saying he was “against religion” Huh? I was quite taken aback by his statement especially since he was the church’s pastor and in my mind held the utmost religious authority in the church. He went on to say that religion as a whole has failed us and has not provided society with any success. It was an interesting concept, however I was still quite confused given that 1. He was a church pastor and 2. This was still a “church service” where believers still follow a system or guideline on what they should or should not do. We were told that people in the service will probably speak in tongues or jump around but that we had nothing to worry about. Somehow, I don’t think we were ready for what we saw. As we took our seats in the first couple rows of the church, I could see that this church service was nothing like the “traditional” Christian church services. As people began to jump and shout along the church the Indonesian students turned to us and asked us questions about what was going on. I did my best at explaining the difference between the services we attended and how a Catholic Church service for example would be held. The Indonesian students were surprised at the immense passion, excitement, screaming, shouting, and running around that was taking place. It was quite different from their religious practice and probably from anything they had ever seen. While I was surprised as well, it was important to me to talk to the other students and hear how they felt, primarily “why” these individuals practiced their religion in this manner. I tried to explain the idea of spirituality and the belief that God speaks directly to believers and that is where the speaking in tongues and need to jump and shout comes from. I doubt that made much sense but it was quite difficult to explain especially when coming from a religion where religious practice tends to be more quite and reserved.
After attending the church service we headed to the Islamic Center of America where we had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Alawan who is in charge of inter-faith outreach in the community. He spoke to us on his work at the center, the various inter-faith outreach that has occurred with the Islamic center and neighboring churches, as well as the importance of intra-faith dialogue as a key to creating unity in the religion. In comparison to the mosque we attended in Indonesia. Mr. Alawan stressed how there was not much separation between males and females. They were allowed to pray in the same area as men and use the same doors to get into the mosque. He stated that the Quran specifically demonstrates the importance of women in Islam. I thought this was an interesting point to make since many people believe that Islam as a religion degrades women and does not give them equal opportunities in comparison to those that men share. I was truly impressed with his desire to create more dialogue among different faiths as a way to continue educating people and break the many misconceptions that exist among one another.
That is all! Until next time!