April 15, 2014

Gaining Others’ Insights of the World

posted by Swearer Center

Divya Bhatia '15 is in her third year as a co-coordinator of the Interfaith Exchange, a community service mentorship program for Providence high school students.


“I’ve learned that one person can actually make a big difference,” said Rayaan Faizan, a 15-year-old Interfaith Exchange Fellow speaking about his year long service project that included canvassing, interviews with the homeless and providers of resources for the homeless, advocacy for homelessness rights, and filming a documentary about homelessness in Rhode Island. The Interfaith Exchange Fellowship is a program for high school students rooted in the belief that social responsibility is the strongest bond linking distinctive faith communities. Through Interfaith Exchange, we embark on a year-long journey to engage in respectful discourse about world affairs in the realm of religion, grounded in religious literacy and with the ultimate goal of cultivating a sustained commitment to social justice.

Like Rayaan, Interfaith Exchange Fellows make a direct impact in the Providence community through independently designed service projects. With mentoring we provide as co-coordinators, our Fellows engage with their peers of different faiths to realize the beauty of interfaith exploration. Our students work within and across religious lines to answer challenging questions: How can we use what we learn about interfaith collaboration to benefit our communities? In the reflective process of responding to these questions, we, along with the Fellows, gain confidence to ask questions most people are afraid to tackle and the freedom to speak to others with a candidness that allows us to gain their insights. Leading and implementing service projects has been an opportunity for our students to engage with our local community firsthand, building confidence in their ability to have an impact.

Our dialogues range from topics including abortion and homosexuality, from current world affairs to religion’s role in the media and entertainment industry. We recently discussed the friction surrounding Katy Perry’s music video “Dark Horse” and did a case study on the reactions to Sgt. Benjamin Anthony of the Israel Defense Force’s visit to Brown/RISD Hillel. Our diverse group members provide wide-ranging views and experiences, and their leadership and communication skills have grown tremendously. One of our Fellows says, “with the information and opinions I got from IE, I’m able to have conversations with others in a much more open and intelligent way than I would have been able to otherwise.”

Through learning and introspection, Fellows feel comfortable sharing their own personal narratives in our intimate community, fostering collective growth and development. My co-coordinators (Katie Rose Lamb '16, Emma Schrager'16, and Faisal Khurshid '16) and I have grown close in our shared belief that faith is the lens through which we view service and are lucky to share this with our Fellows so they are prepared with tools to address global problems. Interfaith work is not simply about living in a diverse society, which we are fortunate to have in our community; it is about wholeheartedly engaging with this pluralism and experiencing each other’s faiths.

In our discussions, we do not strive for mutual agreement. Rather, with challenge, respect, and energy, we each strive to understand why people believe what they believe, even if it’s completely different from our own perspectives.