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Diverse Traditions, Common Mission

Written by Mike Thee
April 23, 2012

Faculty and staff will be invited to deepen SU's commitment to interfaith dialogue by taking up the topic "Diverse Traditions, Common Mission" on Mission Day. "The aim of the day is to celebrate the variety of faith traditions-some religious, some humanistic-at work in our university community," says Peter Ely, S.J., vice president for Mission and Ministry.

Mission Day takes place 8:30 a.m.-12:15 p.m. on Thursday, April 26, on the North Court of the Connolly Center. Panelists will include Joyce Allen, registrar; Vidya Awasthi, accounting; Marc Cohen, management; Darrell Goodwin, Student Development; and Sharon Suh, theology and religious studies.

Fostering interreligious dialogue, though widely seen as necessary in our world today, is easier said than done. For one thing, Father Ely says, "We sometimes struggle to find a common language. Let's say you take a word like 'God.' That works for Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. It doesn't work for Buddhism."

Another challenge, Ely says, is to establish common ground with those who consider themselves non-religious. "Many people find religion to be a total stumbling block, a dead end," he acknowledges.

And yet the opposite of faith, as Ely sees it, is not atheism, but self-centeredness. We have a lot of people here at Seattle University who may not be religious but they are other-directed, and I think that's a form of faith." Ely also points out that the humanistic tradition in which Jesuit education is deeply rooted, is another binding force for the campus and in fact could be considered a kind of faith.

This year's Mission Day topic coincides with a broader effort to strengthen the university's Jesuit Catholic character while affirming faculty, staff and students in their diverse belief systems. This is one the six initiatives under SU's Catholic Jesuit Character priority, and a committee of faculty and staff representing a variety of faith traditions has been meeting since January to lead in its implementation.

Through the ongoing work of the committee and opportunities such as Mission Day, Ely more and more is seeing SU as a place where matters of faith are openly discussed without requiring faculty, staff and students to personally subscribe to Christianity or Catholicism beliefs.

"We want everyone here to feel like they have a voice and that their convictions matter," he says.
"It's about moving from passive toleration to active engagement."

And so the conversation continues on Mission Day.