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?

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.

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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 faithcentre@lse.ac.uk 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.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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).

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Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

Feb 25 2014

Complexity or conflict: Mediation as a tool for reconciliation

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Pablo

 

Pablo Mota-Rodriguez is a post-graduate student on the Development Studies programme. Here he discusses what he has learnt during the LSE Interfaith Ambassadors mediation training…

 

 

As part of our training to become LSE Interfaith Ambassadors, the LSE Faith Centre organised a course to train us in the mediation of conflict. The provider was St. Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace and our convener was Mr. Simon Keys.

This was a very exciting day in which we engaged in different activities that allowed us to work on the concept of ‘disagreement success’. ‘Disagreement success’ is the “recognition that competing interests of the antagonists in a dispute require some kind of mutuality”. In other words, it is to acknowledge that, at the end, we do not need to agree, but we ought to find common grounds on our disagreements and understand each other’s point of view by listening to the ‘other’s’ position. This action of putting ourselves on the “other side’s shoes” is one of the basic features needed to understand our opponent, and one that we so many times fail to practice.mediation 2

We started by playing some games which fine-tuned our listening skills and at the end of the first part of the workshop we played another game in which we stood in a particular part of the room to show our stand on a particular issue, this helped to show how varied our viewpoints were, but also how our assumptions about the views and actions of others are often incorrect.

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Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

Feb 14 2014

The benefits of meditation

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Stef

 

Stef Hackney is a Mental Health and Well-Being Advisor in the LSE Teaching and Learning Centre. Stef regularly takes part in the Faith Centre’s meditation sessions and here explains some of its benefits…

 

The hectic pace and demands of modern life can all too easily result in feelings of stress and never having enough time in the day to get everything done.

We try and manage this by multitasking, continuously speeding up in an attempt to fit more and more into our lives. We spend our time worrying about the future and reliving the past, existing as “walking heads”, disconnected from our bodies and never feeling fully relaxed.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness for Everyday Life, puts it, “While we are blessed with 24/7 connectivity, so we can be in touch with anybody anywhere, at any time, we may be finding, ironically enough, that it is much more difficult than ever to actually be in touch with ourselves. What is more, we may feel that we have less time in which to do it, although each of us still gets the same 24 hours a day as everybody else. It’s just that we fill up those hours with so much doing, we scarcely have time for being anymore, or even for catching our breath”.

One alternative approach to managing this sense of urgency and the resulting increasing anxiety is to give meditation a try. The origins of meditation are widely debated and often attributed to early Buddhism (4th Century BC) but there is absolutely no obligation to identify with any of the aspects of Buddhism in order to meditate, in the same way that you do not have to be training to for the Olympics to go to the gym or get some benefit from exercise. Meditation is a separate and distinct practice that could be one more thing in your armoury against stress alongside exercise, eating well, a regular sleep pattern, feeling connected to others etc.

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Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

Feb 6 2014

Faith Centre engages with local schools

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Reverend Dr James Walters, LSE Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser, writes about the Faith Centre’s relationships with the local community, widening participation and promoting interfaith dialogue in local schools…

 

 

Public engagement is a core part of LSE’s work and the Faith Centre is no exception. school visit smallFor the last three years students of different faiths have visited local primary schools in Interfaith Week in November. Contemporary London has an extremely diverse religious makeup and school teachers are not always equipped to address the issues and tensions that can potentially arise. So our students have led discussions among the children on religious commonalities and differences, as well as demonstrating by their presence the important fact that people of all faiths can attend university and become friends with one another. This year our workshops focussed on how people of different faiths can ask common questions together such as “how do we live a good life?”, “how do we face suffering?” and “how do we understand gender equality?” Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

Jan 29 2014

Encountering “the other” in the Holy Land

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Ali Issa is a second year Economic History undergraduate. Here Ali shares with us some of the challenges he overcame during the LSE interfaith trip to the Holy Land…

 

By the time I was on the coach after departing from Ben Gurion airport, I had an almost sinking feeling, that I was behind enemy lines, that I didn’t belong. All my life I had heard of the plight of the Palestinians and the precarious situation Al-Aqsa’s local people were in, so to be in trendy Tel-Aviv, Israel alongside ‘the other’ made me feel uneasy and that I was taking the wrong route to the Holy Land.

There were several things on our trip that started to show me glimpses of the ‘Israeli mind-set’ (if ever there is such a homogenous body). The main event that helped me understand the Jewish feeling regarding Israel was our visit to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. Hearing how Jews viewed the survivors in the immediate aftermath and the esteem resistance held in the Jewish narrative was something I couldn’t help but compare to the view of ‘resistance’ and ‘martyrdom’ within the Palestinian people. Overall, what I saw in Yad Vashem felt really novel to me which was rather surprising for someone who had quite a definitive view on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Venturing into the reality of the other is something that I didn’t see much of in Israel and Palestine but I have learnt to always try and see where the ‘others’ history originates from in my own life.   IMG_0543

The holy sites we visited gave me an education in itself. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of the Annunciation and Golgotha were places I hadn’t even heard of before the trip, but I saw them and witnessed the excitement and veneration amongst our Christian friends.  I learnt a lot about the Western Wall and the history of the Jewish temples too. Seeing the worship at these holy places in between my frequent visits to Al-Aqsa were a reminder to me that others can be just as devoted to their religion and feel what I feel.

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Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin

Jan 27 2014

Holocaust Memorial Day reflections on Yad Vashem

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Mariah Wilde is a third year Sociology undergraduate. For Holocaust Memorial Day Mariah shared with us her experience visiting Yad Vashem as part of the LSE interfaith trip to the Holy Land… 

 

Before entering Yad Vashem there is a pathway leading to the museum named The Avenue of the Righteous among the Nations. It commemorates the noble acts of human kindness shown towards victims of the Holocaust by non-Jews. Not only did it highlight an appeal to the human condition, but also it showed how humbled nations of peoples could be after beautiful acts carried out generations ago.

As you walk along the pathway there are various plaques with the names of people from all around the world and their contribution.

This was paralleled in the meaning of the Carob trees planted along the pathway that represented seeds of peace being planted by previous generations still maintained over time.  This was particularly profound because it was so peaceful and demonstrated just how dense an event it was.

It is often hard to conceive that such an atrocity occurred, especially on such a mass scale, but to think that there were glimmers of hope from others who were not directly subject to the same pain was a wonderful inclusion of the museum.

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Posted by: Posted on by Anna Gavurin