Dec 16 2014

Interfaith Week: How I learned to go with the flow

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Mary Leong partaking in a traditional Vancouverite activity: yoga in the ocean

The LSE Student’s Union organised a variety of events in and around the Faith Centre for Interfaith Week 2015. The SU Communications Officer Mary Leong shares her experiences of meditation here, where she found herself pleasantly surprised after a Meditation Session in The Cave – a space within the Faith Centre designed for students to use for contemplation, reflection and meditation

 

There’s an awful lot about religion in the news and it’s not always positive. The protracted Israel-Palestine conflict, massacre of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, persecution of Uyghurs and Christians in China, increased conflation of religion and state power in many countries – the list goes on.

While root causes can’t be reduced solely to religion, it continues to play a large role in states’ justification of violence and conflict.

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LSE’s Interfaith Week was a chance for students of all faiths (or none) to engage about religion, culture, and spirituality in an open, inclusive, and non-intimidating forum. I was sent to participate in a meditation session, and hopefully, learn something in the process…

Meditation, I scoffed. As a former sales assistant in an aromatherapy store, I had encountered my fair share of customers trying to tell me about my chakras. That was about the extent to which my relationship with zen had progressed over the years. I didn’t purposefully shy away from the spiritual, but didn’t see – or make – room for it in my life.

Part of my reluctance to engage was discomfort with the way “trendy” New Age practices have evolved and divorced with their historical, cultural, and spiritual significance. In Vancouver, where I’m from, there are (very expensive!) yoga studios and juice bars on every street corner. Wellness and spirituality have become commodities that signify a certain – mostly white, upper-middle class – aspirational lifestyle, and frankly I just wasn’t keen to participate in it.

On a personal level, the idea of taking time out to be alone with my thoughts was a little frightening. I had no idea what to expect when I arrived in the Cave, a dimly-lit room in the Faith Centre adorned by rope-knit beanbag seats and candles. In the back of my mind, a niggling thought remained: What if I’m doing it wrong? Can you even do meditation wrong? 

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My fears turned out to be, thankfully, unfounded. I was pleasantly surprised when the session largely featured breathing and visualization exercises, both of which I was quite familiar with, thanks to ongoing efforts to cope with anxiety through those methods. I was also heartened when the session ended with a series of readings from Sufism, Buddhism, and Kabbalah on the importance of mindfulness and interpersonal relationships.

Now, I’m not saying that meditation is going to become a major part of my life from here on. I certainly didn’t transcend to some higher mental state or have some sort of spiritual awakening, but the idea of just taking time out to find some inner peace and quiet doesn’t intimidate me as much any more.

For all my scepticism, Interfaith Week provided a gateway for me (and hopefully other students) to open up to new ideas and experiences. I’m glad that it pushed me to do something outside my comfort zone that challenged me and my assumptions.

 

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Dec 9 2014

Mutually Supportive Connectedness on the Interfaith Buddies Scheme

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Catherine Whittle

This term saw the pilot run of the new Interfaith Buddies scheme, fostering constructive encounters and engagements between LSE students of different faiths and belief systems in the context of small discussion groups. Here, Anthropology and Law student Catherine Whittle shares some experiences and reflections on the scheme, and highlights the importance of staying interconnected, especially when it comes to offering mutual support in challenging times. 

Huddled by my Advent candle on this chilly December evening, I’m enjoying the novelty of having just posted a Facebook poll asking a Catholic, an agnostic, a Muslim and a Buddhist when they’re all free for our Christmas dinner. Can’t say I saw that coming.

Frankly I’d be hard pushed to think of four lectures I’ve been to that were as enlightening and intellectually stimulating as the four hours I’ve spent with my Interfaith Buddies group. I’ll share a few highlights that educated me:

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-          I tentatively asked my new Catholic friend if Catholics pray to Mary and not directly to God. From my evangelical/Baptist background, praying to Mary is not the done thing, and a distant memory from my childhood of hearing my Catholic grandmother open a prayer with ‘Hail Mary’ had roused my curiosity. Her emphatic response: “No, we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” I could have cheered and applauded. It seems the ‘personal relationship’ is not the exclusive domain of Protestantism; thank goodness. Actually, the idea of encouraging children to pray to Mary as a more approachable, maternal figure doesn’t seem like the worst idea.

-          The lesser jihad, a holy war to resist those oppressing the Islamic community, is not so significant as the greater jihad: the war raging within yourself against darkness and temptation, the fight to choose the right path. And regardless, I am told, the lesser jihad in no way justifies the actions of the so-called Islamic State, at least in the view of many Muslims. (I wondered if this would come up. None of us mentioned it until our Muslim member broached the subject.) Further, within Islam even smiling at someone is an act of charity. I like this logic under which those without financial means can also be charitable. It taps into my understanding that generosity is more about spirit and relationship than finance.

-          Buddhist meditation is about understanding our emotions, being at one with them and exercising control that we might not be overcome by them. This practice means that any event of life is not too much for us, however difficult; there is more to our existence and we need not be overwhelmed. Secondly, a prominent Thai festival involves dedicating a day to throw water over anyone and everyone you happen to come across as an act of sharing blessing and good fortune. Really, anyone. The government have told those who don’t want to get wet to stay at home. Can you imagine the influx of common assault charges if we tried the same thing here?

-          Burning paper representations of gifts for late relatives and ancestors is still practiced in China, though perhaps not so commonly as in times gone by. Some of us expected this having seen the odd (commonly ethnocentric) documentary, but we didn’t realise that the paper gifts burned for the dead can include servants, or that these gifts can be intriguingly labelled, ‘Made in Hell’. I also heard my first stories of people seeing the ghosts of their recently deceased relatives, which as an Anthropology student is quite exciting. I am challenged to consider how far my theology can stretch to accommodate a diversity of human experience, and where the boundaries lie between faith, reason, tradition and culture.

Possibly the seminal moment of my Interfaith Buddies experience for me, however, has been the human connection of our group, diverse as we are, getting to know each other. One member of our group is facing a difficult time at the moment with her mother being very ill. Recently her mum underwent a serious operation, and through our Facebook group she asked us all to “pray/meditate/wish a lot…” for her mum. If I could crystallise Interfaith Buddies into a moment, it would be this. Five people from with very different histories, and often contrasting beliefs, remembering and supporting one another in any way we know how – we petition our God, a higher power, the Universe; we hope, in the interests of another. And so this other becomes less ‘Other’ and more ‘Person’, like me, who needs support, like me.

LSE’s Interfaith Buddies programme is similar to a programme run by St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace, whose mission is to “help people build relationships across divisions of conflict, culture and religion”. I have felt peace and reconciliation within our group. I might even go as far as saying that our meetings have given me hope that our world could one day find peace and reconciliation. That, from my faith perspective, humanity and the rest of creation could live in the ‘shalom’ (wholeness, peace) of God that I seek for myself and often struggle to extend to others. I regret that I have not always seen past my own prejudice or ignorance. I hope we may over time rediscover our true humanity, a humanity that is always shared. And above all, I am thankful for the opportunity I have had to outgrow my preconceptions, to learn from others and to consider how much we have in common. There is much about which we agree.

“Life is never about being correct, but only and always about being connected. Just stay connected! At all costs stay connected. Our only holiness is by participation and surrender to the Body of Love, and not by any private performance. This is the joining of hands from generation to generation that can still change the world—and will. Because Love is One, and this Love is either shared and passed on or it is not the Great Love at all.”– Richard Rohr’s Meditation: The Eternal Home of Love. Centre for Action and Contemplation

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Nov 4 2014

Planting the seeds of wisdom at the Faith Centre official opening

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s200_jacob phillips (1) (2)The official opening of the LSE Faith Centre featured a dialogue between former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, and renowned sociologist Prof. Bruno Latour, chaired by the LSE Director Prof. Craig Calhoun, on the theme of Religion and the Environment. In this post the Faith Centre Coordinator Jacob Phillips highlights the resonances between some of the themes of this discussion and the work of the LSE Faith Centre itself. 

The official opening of the LSE Faith Centre featured a discussion between Rowan Williams and Bruno Latour on  religion and the environment, chaired by the LSE Director Craig Calhoun. At first glance, this could seem a little incongruent; the apparently disparate themes of religion and ecology being hotly debated in a centre for religious observance and interfaith encounter in an institution which specialises in economics. However, these factors connected and intertwined in a remarkable fashion throughout the discussion, making this event a very fitting one to mark the opening of the Centre.  The Faith Centre is a place to explore one’s own tradition and encounter other traditions, to have ungrounded fears and presuppositions challenged, and to experience new insights and realisations, and uncover unseen aspects of one’s own standpoint. Throughout the dialogue between Williams and Latour, these aspects to the work of the LSE Faith Centre recurred frequently, as both thinkers approached religion and the environment in terms of challenging presuppositions, bringing fresh clarity and realisation to our approaches, and uncovering implicit or hidden aspects of religion as a resource for meeting the challenges of the impending ecological crisis. In short, many of the virtues required as a response to the ecological crisis, are related to aspects of the work of the Faith Centre itself. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Oct 31 2014

Making our LSE community one that exports peace

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Community and Welfare Officer and Alumnus Seb Bruhn attended We are All Human at the LSE Faith Centre, and records his impressions in this post. He concludes that if we can be more open to sincerely respecting and trying to relate to the struggles of people from other backgrounds, then we will perhaps get both a more truthful and holistic understanding of the global situation. 

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend ‘We are all human: Interfaith Perspectives on Troubled Times’. It was a fascinating panel event hosted by the LSE Faith Centre, with speakers Mustafa Field from the Faiths Forum for London and Sister Christine Frost, both renowned for their work on community cohesion. This event and its message, which was largely a response to recent incidents, resonated deeply with me, compelling me to write this blog that you are now reading. Its encouragement of organic interfaith dialogue and inclusion of anecdotes helped to remind me of the acute importance of mutual understanding and maintaining hope in these volatile and ever changing times.  Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Oct 15 2014

We are all Human podcast now online!

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On Monday 13th October the Faith Centre was delighted to present,

We are are all Human: Interfaith Perspectives on Troubled Times

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Our guest speakers were two highly experienced interfaith workers, Mustafa Field MBE (Director the Three Faiths Forum) and Sister Christine Frost MBE (Interfaith Community Worker in East London). Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Sep 24 2014

Don’t Import Conflict, Export Peace

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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?

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Jacob Phillips

Jun 4 2014

Faith Centre hosts ‘Europe’s most radical nun’

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On Thursday 29 May the Faith Centre welcomed Sister Teresa Forcades to speak on the topic of ‘Faith and Politics’.

teresa 2Described by the BBC as ‘Europe’s most radical nun’, Sister Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun and prominent social activist in her native Catalonia. She has studied in America and in Spain holding doctorates in theology and public health. A controversial critic of Government, Capitalism and her own Church, Sister Teresa has gained an international reputation as a left wing public intellectual and campaigner.

 

To listen to Sister Teresa’s talk please click play below or download as a podcast.

Click to play or Download mp3

In association with the LSE Forum on Religion

Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

May 29 2014

Bishop of London praises ‘desert in the city’

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In a guest blog the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres KCVO, contributes an extract of his speech at the dedication of the Faith Centre’s stained glass window…

 

 

Bishop of London speakingAt a time of some nervousness about engagement with religion in the public sphere, the LSE is to be congratulated on the wisdom of opening this new Faith Centre. Religion has not withered on the vine of modernity as many expected. On the contrary, to quote the title of the editor of the Economist’s recent book, ‘God is back’ as a force in global politics and in the dynamics of social and economic life. Yet I say that with no triumphalism, because what is also clear is that we are witnessing across the world a struggle between religion that is healthful and religion that is lethal. The wisdom of this Centre is that it is engaging with these challenges. This is not a lukewarm, wishy-washy multi-faith space seeking to find a lowest common denominator. It is not possible to exorcise the satanic by invoking a vacuum.

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

May 20 2014

Researching Religion: Faith in the social sciences

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As part of LSE Research Festival 2014, the evening of Tuesday 6 May saw LSE Faith Centre welcome guests from LSE and elsewhere for a panel discussion focusing on the role of religion in academic research. Here, Anna Gavurin of LSE Faith Centre and Josie Lloyd of LSE Research Festival reflect on the event, and explain why events like this are so important.

The new LSE Faith Centre is a reflective space enjoyed by a diverse range of the LSE community – people of all faiths or none are welcomed to engage with each other, and interfaith dialogue is actively promoted. What better setting, then, to hold a discussion on the role of religion in academic contexts. As part of LSE Research Festival 2014, we invited a panel of academics, PhD students and experts on religion and faith to discuss questions such as whether the researcher’s own faith commitments should play a role in research projects where religion is being studied, whether the nature of research focusing on religion means that the researcher becomes part of the output, and if there are specific ethical considerations relating to the study of religion. The discussion was chaired by Madeleine Bunting, Guardian columnist and associate editor, who expertly led the dialogue between panellists Nick Spencer (research director at Theos thinktank), Dr Matthew Engelke (LSE’s Department of Anthropology), and LSE PhD students Teresa Whitney (Social Psychology) and Magdalena Delgado (International Relations).

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

Mar 5 2014

First ever Shabbat meal on LSE campus!

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Jay Stoll

 

Jay Stoll is the General Secretary of the LSE Student’s Union. Here he discusses why taking part in  LSESU Jewish Society’s first Shabbat meal was so important to him…

 

 

LSE’s wonderful new Faith Centre hosted its first Shabbat meal last Friday night. I am acutely conscious of addressing an audience beyond North West London, so I want to start with a suitable-for-Wikipedia explanation of Shabbat, before I explain why this is a seminal moment for Jewish students at LSE.

“Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, celebrated every week from sundown on Friday to nightfall of Saturday. In Hebrew, Shabbat means “resting.” As recounted in Genesis, God created the world in six days and on the seventh refrained from creating. The observance of Shabbat by the Jewish nation is mandated in the fourth of the Ten Commandments. Jews sanctify the Shabbat and “rest” on this special day—defined by abstention from 39 forms of creative activity.”

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In reality, what Shabbat means to our pluralist Jewish community at LSE is much harder to pin down. For some, it is exactly the above – a time of great spirituality, a break from the materialism devouring 21st century life and a retreat into our thoughts, our communities and our religious practice. All electronic devices turned off, all working commitments postponed and a complete immersion in spiritual indulgence. Hours of prayer/communal singing in the Synagogue, plenty of lessons from the Torah told, and a general celebration of resting in the name of God (a weekend lie-in, a cynic might say).

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin