It is unfortunate that it took an event as devastating as the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 for many Americans, as well as University students, to become more than marginally aware of Islam, one of the largest and fastest growing religions in the world. Students should not allow another catastrophe to be the impetus for their increased awareness of other world religions. Rather, they should take advantage of the opportunities they have – specifically those made available by the University – to learn about the various world religions.
No matter the reasons voiced, college students – by virtue of their presence in college – are claiming that they want to be better-educated citizens of the world. If this was not at least one of their goals, they would not be paying to attend an institution of higher education which has as its purpose to teach them more about their world.
An important aspect of becoming a well-educated citizen of the world is being aware of centuries-old religious worldviews and their continued importance today. Few factors have the potential to influence a person’s life so thoroughly as his or her religion. It affects one’s view of self and others so deeply that one’s religion is often inextricable entwined with that person’s sense of self-identity. According to Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama, in “Experiencing Intercultural Communication,” religious identity is an important dimension of many people’s identities and is also a common source of intercultural conflict. Also, religion is one of the most significant lenses through which people view world issues. Hindus, Muslims and Christians, for example, may perceive the topic of world hunger in different lights, primarily because of their religious beliefs. A person who is educated about religion’s effect on a person’s worldview has an infinitely better chance of interacting and communicating effectively with followers of other religions.
As an institution of higher education, HBU offers students an adequate number of opportunities to learn about other religions. There are at least three classes offered by the university – within either the CHRI or PHIL rubrics – that students may take to learn more about one or more of the major world religions. The only prerequisites for those classes, if any, are the Christianity classes required for Smith College. Also, the Spiritual Life Office has, at least within the last year, arranged programs and forums that allow students an opportunity to better understand the views of other religions. One such event is the World Religions Forum held Tuesday night, where representatives of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism discussed in a forum setting, their respective religions’ views on a number of theological issues. These opportunities, and others like them, should not be ignored or dismissed lightly. Only if they are used to their fullest extent will they be effective.
Consequently, HBU students have no excuse for being ignorant of world religions, except for their own lack of initiative or concern. The University offers opportunities for students to educate themselves about the world religions, and they should take full advantage of those opportunities so that can become more aware, better-educated citizens of the world.