In our first post of the new academic year, LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser the Revd James Walters sets out a vision of the LSE as a place that does not import conflict, but exports peace – and introduces an exciting new Faith Centre initiative, Interfaith Buddies.
A much-discussed topic in social science is the extent to which it is possible for a researcher to stand outside the field of study. Can you adopt a neutral position from which to observe what’s going on? Is it possible not to be in some way involved?
The consensus is it’s pretty much impossible. And that seems to be particularly so at a university like LSE where our diversity and internationalism mean that the issues we read about in our textbooks and in the news headlines are issues that are bound to directly affect some members of our community. The rest of us too are conditioned in our reactions by our own beliefs, life experience, and the dominant social narratives.
That was true a year ago when we began the academic year with the tragic death in the Westgate Shopping Mall in Nairobi of a much-loved student Ravindra Ramrattan who had been active in the LSE Interfaith Forum a few years earlier. It will be true this year too. We have seen a horrifying summer of conflict in many parts of the world – Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Gaza – and we have students and staff who have been directly caught up in and affected by this violence.
Alongside these headline conflicts there are many other parts of the world where cultural/religious tensions continue to simmer and where religious and non-religious minorities suffer discrimination and persecution. Again, many of us bring experience and sympathies from these situations.
As an international university community, we therefore face a choice. We can import these conflicts onto our campus, seeing in our fellow students representations of global tensions. We can see our university as a platform to pursue narrow sectarian agendas and reinforce the oppositions we are fed by the media.
Three LSE students on the interfaith trip to Israel/Palestine earlier this year
Or we can do something more constructive. We can see this time we spend in such a pluralistic community as an opportunity to challenge our preconceptions. We can engage with people who we would not otherwise meet. We can listen to views that challenge our own. And we can seek to build understanding and friendship across religious and cultural divides.
If we have the courage to do this, LSE will be a place that does not import conflict, but a place that exports peace.
That has always been LSE’s business: to be a place where leaders are formed who can engage with the problems of the day in order to make the world a more just and harmonious place. And one of the reasons for the creation of LSE’s new state of the art Faith Centre is the obvious fact that the need for interreligious understanding is perhaps a greater part of this endeavour than it has ever been.
So LSE Faith Centre is offering you two opportunities at the beginning of this academic year to help us all engage constructively with conflict and difference.
The first is an event at 6pm on 13th October entitled “We are all human” to help us reflect on the events of this summer and their implications for interfaith dialogue. We will have some expert panelists but most of all it is an opportunity to hear from members of our student community affected by these conflicts. That will be followed by an interfaith vigil to remember those who have died and share our desire for peace.
The second is a new scheme we are launching called “Interfaith Buddies” which gives you the opportunity to interact with students of different faiths and cultures in small groups. It’s open to both religious students and those who would not define themselves as such, and the idea is simply to engage in respectful dialogue about core human issues with people you might not otherwise talk to. You can read more about the Interfaith Buddies Scheme here, and email firstname.lastname@example.org for information on enrolling.
So I hope you will make the most of your time at LSE. Make friends across religious and cultural divides. Learn to see the world from other people’s point of view. And above all, don’t import conflict, export peace.