Interfaith Week closes gap between religions

Yale University Humanist Chaplain Chris Stedman speaks at the Chester Fritz Auditorium Monday night as part of Interfaith Week. Photo by Nicholas Nelson/The Dakota Student.

Countless cultures from every corner of the globe have their roots in religion, and there are an estimated 4,200 unique religions in the world today. Most people can name a few of the larger ones, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism, but in a state like North Dakota it can be rare to know or even meet people of different religious backgrounds.

This is where UND’s Interfaith Week steps in.

Over the course of seven days, Interfaith Week offers students numerous opportunities to get to know others of different faiths.

“I think that if you don’t know certain people, it’s too easy to get hung up on a stereotype,” Wellness Center Special Events intern Mandy Kjeldergaard said. “Interfaith Week really helps to break down barriers.”

Almost 20 separate events were held over the past week, ranging from a Super Bowl party to an introduction of Buddhist Vipassana meditation. One of the most noticeable aspects of Interfaith Week is the diverse group of guest speakers.

“We had professors, community members, authors and even students giving presentations this week,” Kjeldergaard said.

Along with many of the events offering free food, another aspect was used to entice students to participate in the multicultural gatherings. Each time students attended one of the activities, they received a chance to enter a drawing that took place at the end of the week.

“We have a bunch of prizes for the drawing, including an iPad Mini, a Fitbit, a Nook GlowLight and even a free haircut at Regis Salon,” Kjeldergaard said.

During many of the events, students were allowed to freely share their opinions on religion and faith. When asked what he thought of Interfaith Week, freshman Shaun Uhlir had a very positive response.

“I feel like I’m getting closer to everyone here,” Uhlir said. “I realized that more people questioned their faith than I thought did and I can definitely relate to people more,”

In the wake of 9/11, there was still a great deal of hostile sentiment towards Muslims in the United States. Interfaith Week began life as a way to help ease some of the tension against the religious group.

“It all started five years ago when there was a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media, and I was thinking as I was watching that we could do better than that,” campus pastor Chad Brucklacher said. “We began with a Muslim-Christian dialogue, then we added more and more faiths and began the first Interfaith Week.”

All events were designed to be as inclusive as possible, which meant they were open to members of the Grand Forks community as well. Among these, Pagan Wiccan minister Chassidy Strege put it best when asked what she hoped people got out of attending Interfaith Week events.

“My hope is that when people come, the experience nourishes them and they spread the good word,” Strege said.

Brendan McCabe is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected].