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Patel to further interfaith discussion at UW-Madison

April 25, 2012 By Stacy Forster

Eboo Patel likes to tell the story of how Martin Luther King Jr. learned in seminary school about Gandhi’s inspiration to create a nonviolent social reform movement.

Photo: Eboo Patel


After learning Gandhi drew from Hinduism, King then looked to Christianity’s traditions of nonviolence and adapted them to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott, he recalls.

To Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based group working to build an interfaith youth movement through service, it’s a great example of how cooperation among people of different faiths can influence and change the world.

The story of interfaith cooperation has now spread to college campuses, including the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where Patel says, “students are writing the next chapter.”

Patel will be on the UW–Madison campus on Monday, April 30, to speak about “Acts of Faith: Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Global Religious Crisis,” at 7:30 p.m. in Tripp Commons of the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St. His speech is free and open to the public.

“We can’t forfeit the conversation about religion only to people who believe in a clash of civilizations,” Patel says. “We have to be having a proactive, positive discussion of religious diversity and interfaith cooperation, and I think campuses are an ideal place to lead that.”

In addition to his talk, Patel will meet with groups of students and university officials.

Patel’s visit is part of UW–Madison’s participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, a yearlong effort to prompt interfaith and community service programming on more than 250 campuses across the country.

Led by the Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions, the Morgridge Center and the Multicultural Student Center, nearly two dozen campus units and registered student organizations across UW–Madison have joined together to promote the discussion.

“Eboo’s visit is a celebration of what we’ve done on the campus,” says Charles Cohen, director of the Lubar Institute. “We’re bringing the person whose idea this was nationally to put an exclamation mark on this year.”

Community service activities are joined with the interfaith discussion because serving others is something all religions have in common, Patel says.

“It’s obvious common ground, an obvious shared value between people of different religions,” he says. “When you learn about another religion’s values around service, that’s such a powerful value, it’s such an admirable value — your whole view of that religion changes.”

Patel says he’s been impressed by UW–Madison’s efforts at fostering interfaith dialogue, pointing to the presence of the Lubar Institute and strong student leadership in promoting the idea.

Steven Olikara, senior class president, who lobbied and worked with Cohen to bring Patel to campus, thinks Patel’s speech will spark greater discussion at UW–Madison.

“I hope he’ll articulate the importance of interfaith cooperation as a recipe for social change and success,” Olikara says. “The younger generation wants to make a difference in their careers, and interfaith is central to that.”

Patel says many young people already have connections to people of different faiths through existing friendships — they’ve played basketball together, or held math study groups or book group discussions — and will need to call on that familiarity going forward.

“The U.S. is only going to get more diverse,” Patel says, “it’s not getting any less diverse.”