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.

As the talks and discussion developed, it seemed clear how important a forum like this had been for many of the attendees. Many, including myself, were clearly relieved to get things off of their chest in relation to the conflicts and traumas that had taken place over summer, many of which had thrust religion into the limelight. It is important to remember how diverse our student community is and that many of our fellow students and staff members come from unstable regions where conflicts are converging. These include places such as India, Palestine, Central African Republic, Syria, and Ukraine. With such a diverse community, that has links to so many regions, it seems crucial that we, as our Chaplain said, “can make LSE a place that exports peace”.

Mustafa Field MBE

Mustafa Field MBE

The stories and insights of the two panellists helped lay out the global situation and also put into context the message of the event and the Faith Centre as a whole.  Sister Christine Frost spoke of the charity work and community building that she had been a part of in her predominantly Muslim neighbourhood of London. She also highlighted the importance of communication, when she gave an account of the media’s misrepresentation of her removal of a politically charged flag from her estate’s main entrance, which she feared would cause the wider society to wrongly fear her neighbours. The incident caused her to strengthen her community activism, which has involved her speaking out about the severe inequality and persisting disillusionment of the youth in many of London’s boroughs.

Mustafa Field spoke about his work with the faith forum and the positive impact that bringing together the regional leadership in and around London has had on social cohesion. He highlighted the numerous similarities in the nature and challenges of the various religious communities and how religious communities have far more that can bring them together than can divide them. His organisation’s work has included English classes, culturally diverse meals, housing projects, and promotion of political involvement. Mustafa emphasised that the success of the different initiatives often came down to the willingness of each faith group to take the time to sincerely listen to the others.

So how can we ensure that the LSE community is one that truly exports peace? In my humble opinion, the answer seems to have something to do with being honest with ourselves. As was alluded to during the event, it is normal and natural to focus one’s thoughts and efforts mostly on the struggles of one’s own community. However, 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. This, though, requires an understanding that the labeling of an entire community is an easy oversimplification and that every person is a unique individual with many aspects to their identity. This also involves being honest about the individual role that each of us inevitably plays in the creation and sustaining of a culture of peace and understanding. So have a chat with someone you wouldn’t normally, get involved with the initiatives of the Faith Centre and the SU, like the upcoming Interfaith Week. We have a unique and remarkable opportunity here!

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

WAAH3

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).

Sister Christine Frost MBE

Sister Christine Frost MBE

Mustafa Field MBE

Mustafa Field MBE

Our guests spoke on their respective experiences of interfaith work in light of the difficult summer of violence in 2014.

The audio from this event is now available, so have a listen to this wonderful occasion via these links!

We are all Human Part 1 & Part 2

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?

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.

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).

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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.”

Shabbat 1

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.

Continue reading

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