Browser warning

UT Helps Pilot Interfaith Movement

Published: March 16, 2011
Eboo Patel spoke at the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values on March 15, adding that he was energized to be in a place that was helping to pilot the interfaith movement.
Eboo Patel spoke at the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values on March 15, adding that he was energized to be in a place that was helping to pilot the interfaith movement.
Watch video from Eboo Patel's visit

College can be a transformative time.

For Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit fueling the interfaith youth movement, his time at the University of Illinois changed his life. He found his passion went beyond multicultural diversity to fostering religious diversity — a source of tension in countries across the globe.

Patel’s dream is for interfaith leadership and interfaith literacy to be hallmarks of a college education. He told a University of Tampa crowd gathered in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values on March 15 that he was energized to be in a place that was piloting the movement.

“I can tell you that I can’t think of another campus in the country that has the combination of your dedication to an aspirational vision and a beautiful, powerful, physical building in which you are the proof that we are better together,” Patel said.

“I hope this is a place that provides a space for people to enter into new conversations with each other and to leave as leaders of those conversations so that pieces of the Sykes Center, pieces of this light, spread and scatter all across Tampa and the nation,” Patel said.

Universities are the perfect place for spreading the interfaith movement because they set priorities for our culture, advance knowledge, train our nation’s leaders and model what good looks like, Patel said.

“College students helped secure free speech and civil rights in 20th century America. Right now they’re helping free nations across North Africa,” Patel said. “College students will lead us to the dream of interfaith cooperation.”

Salman Ahmad ’14, a biology major, who was born in Boston to an Indian father and Pakistani mother and raised in Saudi Arabia, asked Patel how to open the door to interfaith conversations among people with a dominant Muslim culture known for keeping conversations about faith closed.

“Your job is to go to the front lines and translate this vocabulary to the community where you’re from,” Patel said. “That’s what it means to be a leader.”

He suggested using technology to spread messages and to start small, beginning conversations with a group of five people who might be open to this dialogue. From there it will grow.

“If 300 people hadn’t shown up for the protests in Egypt in 2005, 2 million wouldn’t have shown up in 2011,” Patel said of the country’s recent revolution.

The conversation isn’t limited to people who ascribe to a religious faith, Patel responded to another student’s question about his place at the table as a secularist. Patel, whose Interfaith Youth Core staff is 20 percent nonreligious, encouraged the student to be a leader in the movement.

For those concerned that interfaith work could compromise their own faith, Patel asked them to look to their religious or philosophical traditions that inspire, or even require, interfaith cooperation.

“It is one of the great questions of every time and place, of every nation and generation. Who will win? The forces who say we are better apart? Or those that insist we are better together?” Patel asked. “It goes by different names — a clash of civilizations, culture wars — but the heart of the question remains the same. Will our identities be barriers of division, bombs of destruction or bridges of cooperation?”

Kaitlin Congo ’13, an advertising and public relations major with a leadership minor, said she believes UT students will carry out Patel’s message and hopes they find a foundation in the process.

“I just hope students find a spark in themselves,” said Congo, a member of Diversity Fellowship.

So does Patel.

“The work of interfaith leaders is to acquire the knowledge of possibility, change conversations from conflict to cooperation, launch concrete campaigns that show a hopeful alternative and invite the world to join,” he said.

“You show at The University of Tampa that Hindus and Humanists, Buddhists and Baha’is, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, gay folks and straight folks, that what you do is work together. You work together to improve your campus and improve your community.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
Sign up for UT Web Alerts