Feb 21 2017

Faith & Leadership: Residential 2017

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It was a privilege to be hosted once again at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine for the Faith & Leadership Residential 2017. Last year the residential was a close to the programme, giving participants a chance to step back out of the busy schedule of the LSE and reflect on the key issues surrounding faith and leadership in such a diverse world. RFSK is a perfect setting for this, a retreat centre very close to Shadwell, but a bit of tranquillity in the midst of a city that never stops.

This year, the Faith Centre ran the residential earlier on in the programme, giving students a chance to get to know each other more closely, to eat together, to discuss themes brought by inspirational speakers and form a closer group for the duration of Faith & Leadership which runs until March.

The first afternoon consisted of a stellar panel to open, with Jonathan Hellewell, the Prime Minister’s Special Advisor for Faith Communities, Francis Campbell, former Ambassador to the Holy See, and current Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s University, and Baroness Butler-Sloss, Chair of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. The panel reflected on the relationship of faith to politics, how we make space for diverse opinions in public life, the challenges of this and the work that remains to be done in this burgeoning area of academic and public interest.

For the second Saturday session we welcomed Jasvir Singh OBE, family barrister and Chair of the City Sikhs Network and Foundation, recently recognised for his outstanding contribution to interfaith relations, Barbara Ridpath, Director of the St Paul’s Institute, and Professor Nava Ashraf, Director of Research at LSE Marshall Institute and from the Baha’i faith tradition. Following a scrumptious dinner, the group reconvened to hear Dr Desmond Biddulph CBE, President of The Buddhist Society reflect on The Buddhist Imagination.

On our final day, Revd Canon Dr James Walters, Chaplain to the LSE presided over an optional Eucharist in the chapel, giving Christian students a chance to worship in unique surroundings, and participants of other faiths a chance to experience an act of Christian worship.

The residential sessions on Sunday focused on the concepts underpinning leadership. Ruhana Ali, CEO of Nasiha Consulting, Programme Director for Common Purpose and LSE alumna led an energising interactive session on faith and values-driven leadership, including how to have conversations that go deeper, build genuine connections and inspire communities to movements for change. The residential finished with two intensive workshops on the four temperaments of leadership led by Krish Raval, Director of Faith in Leadership.

With much gratitude to our incredible panellists and speakers, our hosts at RFSK for making it such relaxing stay, and David Beecken, LSE alumnus for his generous funding which makes the residential possible.

Posted by: Posted on by Angharad Thain

Feb 9 2017

The Promise of Religion

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Ben Reiff is a first year International Relations undergraduate. Here he shares with us some of his reflections following this year’s Interfaith Encounter trip to Israel and Palestine.

The air over Jerusalem is saturated with prayers and dreams
Like the air over industrial cities,
It’s hard to breathe.
– Yehuda Amichai, Ecology of Jerusalem

In November 2014, the Yad B’Yad (“Hand in Hand”) bilingual school in Jerusalemp1020592 – one of six joint Jewish-Arab schools in Israel – was the victim of a religiously-motivated “price-tag” arson attack attributed to Jewish far-right organisation Lehava. Graffiti reading “there’s no coexistence with cancer” and “death to Arabs” was also found at the site. For many, this must have been proof that coexistence and interfaith efforts are futile in the Holy Land. The fact that only six such schools exist throughout Israel-Palestine attests to this further.

I recently visited this school on the LSE Faith Centre’s trip “Interfaith Encounter – Israel & Palestine” – a trip that took us from East Jerusalem to West Jerusalem, and from the Galilee to Bethlehem. Having spent my gap year in Israel last year I’d already seen much of what we were shown in our short time there. I’d also seen enough of the damage done by religion in the region to make me overwhelmingly pessimistic about religion altogether.

The arson attack on the Yad B’Yad school is but another in a centuries-long line of religiously-motivated attacks in the Holy Land which Jews, Muslims and Christians have perpetrated in the name of God – and but another in recent history too. 25 members of the Jewish Underground were arrested in 1984 after being discovered plotting to blow up the Dome of the Rock, in order to liberate Temple Mount for the creation of a Third Temple. The activities today of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem, which is preparing items with which to decorate a future Third Temple (under the motto “may it be rebuilt speedily and in our day”) will do little to allay Muslim fears that this phenomenon is in the past. The Second Intifada (or “al-Aqsa Intifada”) saw over 100 Palestinian suicide bombing attacks in little over five years, which were fuelled to some extent by fears over the future of that same piece of holy land – sparked by then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon entering Temple Mount/ al-Haram ash-Sharif with other Likud politicians and hundreds of Israeli police officers. And aside from the holy sites themselves, the violence of the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict (Operation Protective Edge) was triggerp1020523ed largely by the kidnapping and murder by Palestinians of three religious Jewish teenagers in Gush Etzion.

One of the first people we met on the trip was a Palestinian-Israeli Christian woman from Haifa, named Soher. “In Haifa”, she tells us, “you can’t tell who’s Jewish and who’s Arab. You don’t see people walking around wearing black hats or hijabs.” It has always struck me that Haifa, a mixed Jewish-Arab city, is almost never mentioned in the news for incidents of religious violence. When asked why Haifa doesn’t see the violence Jerusalem sees on a daily basis, Soher replies “coexistence is so easy because everyone is secular.”

Secularism creates peace; religion creates war. With the region’s history of religious violence, it seems only logical.

And yet this exact logic, according to Holy Land Trust (a Palestinian Christian organisation in Bethlehem) director Sami Awad, was the reason for the failure of what he calls the “Oslo two-state framework”. “Oslo completely ignored the religious voice”, he explains. “It failed to address, for example, the fact that over 80% of Jewish historic religious sites are in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.” And the story is similar for Palestinian Christians: “Jesus lived in Nazareth; what did he do in Bethlehem? He left when he was two years old. If you want to study Jesus’ life, it’s Jerusalem, Nazareth and the Galilee. Yet I cannot go there without a specific permit.” Clearly, when the secular elites of Tel Aviv and Ramallah come together to make secular peace, there is always something missing. “We have to have the religious voice involved in peacemaking”, he concludes. “They said religion was the problem, but look what happened when they took religion out.”

We also met members of a grassroots organisation called Roots, which is aiming to build bridges between religious settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank that will serve as the foundations on which a future peace can be based. Shaul, a Jewish Israeli living in a settlement in Gush Etzion, follows a similar line to Sami: “We need to talk about 1948 more [rather than 1967]. Jaffa was a part of Palestine as much as Hebron and Nablus were parts of Israel.” He too is critical of the current formulations of the two-state solution, suggesting that “if a peace agreement is signed tomorrow, there will be terror attacks and price tag attacks on both sides”, since there are too many people – many of them religious – to whom these solutions are unsatisfactory. As such, Roots has set itself the goal of creating trust between thimg_3060e two peoples on a grassroots level. “Negotiation is the so-called ‘short way’ which is actually very long, while grassroots trust-building is the so-called ‘long-way’ which is actually more short.” Another problem, Shaul explains, is the claiming of ownership over the land, which he and his counterparts have a different way of seeing: “The land doesn’t belong to anybody; we belong to the land. Both peoples deeply belong to this land.” The secular peace-makers would do well to bear this in mind.

The religious voice is not some tiny minority that might go away if left on the outside for long enough. In the vast majority of formal and informal peace efforts in recent decades, the religious voice has indeed been excluded, and naturally there is no peace to show for it. Too often it is labelled “extremist” in an attempt to silence it; the peaceful majority are lumped together with the violent minority and the whole lot are stigmatised. But it’s time we learnt to listen to what those voices have to say. Sami explained that “religious leaders here have a much bigger influence on their followers than secular and political leaders.” So regardless of whether or not you believe in God, it is both illogical and dangerous to neglect the religious voice – on either side.

During our tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, we were told a story that took place in the 7th century C.E.. Caliph Omar, the Muslim ruler at the time, went to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Upon arrival, he was invited to pray inside. But, knowing that if he did so his Muslim followers would order that the church be turned into a mosque, he declined. So instead he prayed outside the church, and on that location now stands the Mosque of Omar. It serves as a constant reminder of the need for religious understanding.img_1883

This understanding was on display everywhere we went. In Nazareth, we met the Imam of the White Mosque who is preaching passionately in favour of the two-state solution. In Bethlehem, Sami told us how the Holy Land Trust is raising money to send a handful of Palestinian leaders each year to Auschwitz in order to gain a deeper understanding of the Jewish people’s trauma. In Gush Etzion, Shaul told us how Roots activists on both sides pay visits to the sites or families that have just experienced violence or loss, to show solidarity with them and to condemn the attacks. And finally in Jerusalem, at the Yad B’Yad school, we heard how they received messages of love, support and strength from Jews and Palestinians alike, encouraging them to stand up in the face of adversity and persevere with their interfaith mission.

It is critical that religion no longer be viewed only as something that is problematic to peace in the region. A two-state solution will simply not be possible unless the fears of the religious are addressed. But if indeed their concerns are taken into consideration, and their leaders are brought into the peace process, then religion has the ability to serve as the means to that very peace. Religion might just be peace’s best hope.

 

Posted by: Posted on by Sofia Jamal

Oct 19 2016

Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Faith Communities Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

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Syria is the biggest humanitarian and refugee crisis of our time. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over 4 million people have fled Syria since 2011 and almost 9 million people are predicted to be internally displaced in 2016. Responses from the international community to address this crisis have fallen short. However, faith communities and faith-based organisations have increasingly come together to engage in humanitarian work to help alleviate this suffering.

Last month, the LSE Fimg_2849aith Centre hosted a panel discussion “Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Faith Communities Responding to the Syrian Refugee Crisis”. This event highlighted the responsibility of faith communities to participate in humanitarian activities and introduced the audience to some of the initiatives already in place to address the Syrian refugee crisis. We were honoured by the participation of Dr Georgette Bennett, founder of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees (MFA); Mr. Shadi Martini, Senior Syria Advisor of the MFA and Syrian refugee from Aleppo; and Mrs. Angela Afzal, Refugee Response Coordinator for Capital Mass (a joint initiative of the Diocese of London and Church Urban Fund). The discussion was chaired by Revd Canon Dr James Walters, Chaplain and Senior Lecturer of the LSE.  Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Luis Humberto Benitez Gonzalez

Mar 24 2016

Meaningful Mondays: Faith & Leadership 2016

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On March 7th Craig Calhoun, Director of LSE, presented the 25 Faith & Leadership 2016 participants with their graduation certificates.

Faith & Leadership is an extracurricular programme that aims to deepen student’s understanding of different religions, develop their leadership skills and enhance their potential as young world leaders.

Ruhana Ali SessionThe 2016 programme, which was over-subscribed 3 places to 1, received hugely positive feedback from participants and contributors, and has paved the way for its continuation in forthcoming years.

“Challenging”, “Transformative”, “Rewarding” are three words used to summarise the experience of the Faith & Leadership programme.

The first part of the course is dedicated to improving participants’ religious literacy. Each week guest speakers from different religious backgrounds are asked to expound the imagination of their particular faith. What is the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist imagination? A dynamic series of discussions were led by Rabbi Shoshana Boyd Gelfand (Director of JHub), the Rt Revd & Rt Hon Richard Chartres (Bishop of London), Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad (University of Cambridge), Dr Desmond Biddulph (President of the Buddhist Society) and Dr Opinderjit Kaur Takhar (University of Wolverhampton). Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie

Mar 16 2016

LSE Holocaust Memorial Commemoration

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HolocaustMemorialCommem2016LSE Faith Centre organized the Holocaust Memorial Commemoration on Tuesday 26th January in the Shaw Library. The theme of this year’s Commemoration is ‘Don’t Stand By’. The Holocaust is constituted of millions of personal tragedies and stories of suffering and loss. The historical undeniability of the Holocaust is borne out in how it has shaped our institutions in concrete ways that we may take for granted. This includes the LSE which played an extraordinary role of hospitality to refugees from the Holocaust (at a time when antisemitism was common in England too) and benefited immensely from their expertise, including that of the great Austrian Jewish philosopher Karl Popper. This need not have been so and former Director Ralf Dahrendorf remarked:

It is a comment on the LSE that those who came were made to feel at home, and that those who received them on the whole felt at ease with the newcomers.

At this year’s Holocaust Memorial Commemoration we were grateful for contributions from the LSE Choir, Professor Janet Hartley, Rebecca Hardie (Faith Centre Coordinator), Bryn Laxton-Coglon (LSE LGBT Officer) and Joe Grabiner (LSE Politics and Philosophy Student). Below Joe Grabiner transcribes his honest and moving story of what the Holocaust Memorial means to him and his family.

“Thank you. Talking about genocide, and thinking about the lost lives of many millions of innocent people is not an altogether obvious or easy way to spend a Tuesday afternoon. So thank you for being here. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie

Mar 8 2016

Interfaith Residential: Reflections on the Faith & Leadership Programme

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F&LlogoBashir Ali, an LSE undergraduate student of Anthropology, talks about his experience on the LSE Faith & Leadership Residential. Twenty five participants gathered together at The Royal Foundation of St Katherine’s for a full programme of panel discussions, leadership workshops, talks, meditation and shared meals.

Just over a week ago, as a participant on the LSE Faith & Leadership programme, I was fortunate enough to join over 20 other students, of varying faiths and none, for a weekend residential at The Royal Foundation of St. Katherine’s – an establishment founded in the 12th Century by Queen Matilda to act ‘as a centre for worship, hospitality and service’.

Okay, I say residential, and whilst that conjures up images of cottages and lakes, we could still see Canary Wharf. But that in itself made it the whole experience quite surreal; it was a hub of spiritual solace in the middle of the city. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie

Mar 2 2016

Diwali: An Interfaith Experience

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Following its considerable success last year, the Faith Centre re-ran the Interfaith Buddies scheme to help foster constructive encounters and engagements between LSE students of different faiths and belief systems in the context of small discussion groups. Here Claire Moll, an LSE Postgraduate Student of Anthroplogy, remembers an outing with her Interfaith Buddies Group to experience a Diwali celebration in Trafalgar Square.

IB

“In the beginning of October, after a wonderful hour of tea and conversation with my Interfaith Buddies group, we made our way towards Trafalgar Square, which that particular day was filled with lively music, smells of spicy curries, and about a thousand people. All of those people had gathered in celebration of the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh holiday, Diwali. Diwali is celebrated during the new moon that falls in either October or November. It is a day where families of those faith traditions gather to renew their commitment to familial values and to celebrate the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness.

That afternoon in Trafalgar Square, the excitement was pulsating through the crowds. We looked on as talented dancers took over the grand stage performing with so much energy and grace beautiful traditional dances. It truly was a sensory overload, which, from personal experience in the Subcontinent, was pretty representative of the culture being celebrated. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie

Feb 5 2016

Holy Land Trip 2016

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“I immediately realised that mine was just one narrative; a very linear one at that. And in order to really understand the conflict it was necessary to discard all caricatures and prejudices that I was coming with, to live and listen in the moment, to try to understand on the most basic of human levels what people longed for in their hearts, what parents prayed for their children and only then did I appreciate how relatable everybody’s struggles were to one another.” (Male, Muslim)

In January of this year the Faith Centre took a group of 18 LSE students of different religions and none to Israel/Palestine for just over a week.IMG_2285

Our aim was to learn more about the complexities of the Israel/Palestine conflict, especially its religious dimensions, which are often neglected in political scientific analysis. We also wanted to carefully consider how our own religious commitments, drawn into dialogue with those of different traditions, may be a resource for peacemaking and conflict resolution in the future.

Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie

Dec 22 2015

Songs of Praise: Mitzvah Day Cooking

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Soozy Nesom, LSE Undergraduate Student, reviews her experience being filmed by Songs of Praise on an interfaith baking workshop.

“Over the past 50 years, Sunday late afternoon British TV has aired Songs of Praise. This show broSongs of Praise2adcasts contemporary religious events while a congregation sings hymns or more contemporary worship songs. On Sunday 22nd November, a team of four Christian students from the LSE, along with the Revd. Dr. James Walters participated in interfaith week on the show. We engaged in inter-faith dialogue whilst cooking food for a local homeless shelter.

On Thursday of reading week, we headed to the new JW3 center on Finchley road to participate in the Jewish community’s Mitzvah day. This day happens every year, when a range of volunteers undertake projects for those in needSongs of Praise in their local community. As part of this event they invited us, as Christians, to talk about our faiths whilst cooking faiths from both religions. This is because in all faiths, food represents an important symbol of hospitality. We cooked apple strudel (Jewish dish) mince pies (Christian dish), and a vegetable soup for a local homeless center at Kings Cross Methodist church. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie

Dec 21 2015

Female Leadership: An Interfaith Panel

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Janis Wong, President of LSE Women Leaders of Tomorrow Society, offers her views on the Women’s Interfaith Panel discussion about Religion and Female Leadership, hosted by the LSE Faith Centre as part of Interfaith Week.

Female Leadership Panel

From Left to Right: Sana Musharraf, Fabiana Barticioti, Nava Ashraf, Rebecca Hardie, Lindsay Simmonds, Mandy Ford, Navpreet Atwal.

Last week, as part of LSESU Interfaith Week, the LSESU Jewish Society, in association with LSESU Women Leaders of Tomorrow Society, organised a Women’s Interfaith Panel. Exploring what gender and faith meant to them, the speakers provided a great amount of insight not only in regards to their personal relationship with faith, but also how their beliefs provide the foundation to the work which they do.

From an academic perspective, Lindsay Simmonds, a graduate of the LSJS Susi Bradfield Women Educators’ Fellowships and PhD candidate at the LSE, discussed her work with the Cambridge Co-Exist Leadership Programme. Having explored a wide range of religions during her upbringing, much of her work today focuses on promoting respectful, deep and long-lasting friendship and collegiality between religious leaders, regardless of their faith community. Starting from the bottom-up, Lindsay emphasised the importance of education to encourage acceptance and understanding the ever-evolving meaning of individual faiths. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Rebecca Hardie