Events celebrate religious diversity

Kathryn Cassavell

Villanova students celebrated World Religions Day on Sept. 16 by participating in three different events around campus regarding religious diversity.

A fair took place in Connelly Center from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., where students had a chance to talk to a number of leaders from different religious organizations in the area.

Later, at 3 p.m., Leonard Swidler, a professor of Catholic Thought at Temple University, gave a presentation about the importance of inter-religious dialogue in the lounge of Falvey Memorial Library.

The day wrapped up with a forum at 7 p.m. in the Connelly Cinema titled “Religious Diversity and its Impact on the Workplace.”

“The goal is to educate our students on campus about the variety of traditions that are practiced here,” said Kathy Overturf, associate director of Campus Ministry.

According to Overturf, who took the lead in organizing Wednesday’s events, World Religions Day began as a response to the attacks of 9/11.

“An overwhelming majority of students identified themselves as Roman Catholics,” Overturf said. “So this is an opportunity for them to discover and learn about other religious traditions, especially in the context of future employment.”

Originally scheduled to occur outside the Oreo, the fair was relocated to the lower level of Connelly Center due to rain.

Still, it yielded an impressive turnout. Many students visited over a dozen information tables presented by both Villanova students and local church leaders.

According to Overturf, the fair was larger than last year, and many religions had to share tables. Twenty-two religious organizations were represented including Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Quakerism and Buddhism.

Two new organizations were also introduced: The Dialogue Institute and the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.

Connelly Center was buzzing with energy during the fair as balloons, posters and free food enticed students to venture toward the different stations. However, it was more than free cookies that made students interested in attending this event.

“I wanted to learn about other cultures,” freshman Martin Garcia said, “I think that we are all very different, but at the same time we still have a lot of things in common.”

World Religions Day occurred during a time of much religious excitement. Both Rosh Hashanah and the end of Ramadan, the Muslim 30 day long fast, were celebrated last weekend.

Many students working at the tables wanted to share their religion and some were trying to attract the interest of enough people to start clubs around campus.

But the main objective of the fair was to teach others and help them feel comfortable in situations of religious diversity.

“Even if they’re not seeking to actually become anything, the goal is to just learn,” said junior Ryan Potoff who represented Buddhism at the fair.

Later in the afternoon, students and faculty traveled through sheets of rain to attend Swidler’s presentation about both formal and informal inter-religious dialogue. Swidler covered topics of feminism, secularism and religious awareness.

“We are entering an age of global dialogue,” Swidler said in his presentation. “Those who are Christians need to enter into this dialogue.”

Senior finance major, Sahitya Kollu, who represented Hinduism at the fair, also recognized the necessity of understanding other religions.

“It’s important that people realize that there are multiple perspectives on morality and religion and how you can lead your life,” Kollu said.

World Religions Day came to a close with a forum in Connelly Cinema, in which five representatives on the interfaith panel, each of a different religious background, discussed their customs and beliefs.

Moderated by Jeanmarie Lee, manager for Information Technology at Exelon Corp., the forum helped students understand the distinct qualities of Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism.

Suketu Patel, a Principal Clinical Submission Specialist for AstraZeneca, spoke on behalf of Hinduism at Wednesday’s forum.

“Diversity should connect us, not divide us,” Patel said. “That is central to what this event is about.”