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Interfaith Group Urges Dialogue

By Rachel Banks, Contributing Writer

A revitalized Harvard Interfaith Council (HIC) met for the first time this year on Thursday, drawing about 100 people to discuss religion over chocolate fondue.

Among the crowd were guest speakers Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 and Dean of Harvard Divinity School William A. Graham, as well as leaders of the Harvard Baha’i Association, Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship (HRCF) and Dharma. Representatives from The Pluralism Project, a Harvard-based research endeavor focused on religious diversity, also participated in the event.

“To have them all in one room, you realize that there is a real possibility for integrated religious community,” HIC Chair Om L. Lala ’06 said.

The event opened with an introduction of the HIC board and brief speeches from Gross and Graham.

“This is a terrific learning environment,” Gross said, adding that it is a challenge for people to come together and learn about religion.

Graham noted that interreligious dialogue can often end up one-sided, but said that service projects can effectively bring people together.

“The world needs the capacity of people of different faiths to work together with the great problems that face humanity,” Graham said.

HIC’s most recent effort was Belief in Action, a day of volunteer service in May 2005 that united students from various religious organizations with service groups in Cambridge.

HIC, originally dedicated to small discussions of religion, collapsed in 2003 once founding seniors graduated, according to Lala. He was able to revive the group in the fall of 2004.

The group now aims to promote campus-wide interreligious dialogue by holding events that support varying beliefs. Lala also said he wants to increase HIC’s influence by creating additional events like Belief in Action.

“We want a sustainable, more proactive group,” he said. “It needs to be a more long-term collective resource.”

Vijay Yanamadala ’07, HIC vice-chair, said the group also has a global mission.

“In the past few years, so many hate crimes have been caused by misunderstandings about religions,” Yanamadala said.

Don Larsen, the pastor at the University Lutheran Church and a representative from the House Harvard Square Homeless Shelter, agreed that HIC served a greater international pursuit.

“The world’s peace is dependent upon people learning to respect one another’s religious peculiarities,” Larsen said. “Through meetings like this, people can go beyond what is comfortable to explore what may seem alien and perhaps threatening.”

HRCF President Kristen Heyburn ’06 said the meetings also give religious groups the opportunity to discuss common obstacles, such as a lack of space.

“A lot of groups have similar needs,” she said.

In December, HIC will host a panel discussion on Abrahamic and Eastern religions. In February, the group will hold an event that explores the use of art in worship and spirituality.

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