Journalist discusses religious tolerance

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Award-winning journalist Gustav Niebuhr spoke about tolerance among religions at the University of Indianapolis on Tuesday, Feb. 10. Niebuhr is an associate professor and director of Carnegie Religion and Media Program at Syracuse University in New York. He also is the author of  “Beyond Tolerance: How People Across America are Building Bridges Between Faiths.”

Niebuhr came to UIndy’s campus to speak on interfaith relations and tolerance among religions as part of UIndy’s Interfaith Lecture Series.

“What I hope is that people will see what I am bringing here as a message of hope in the sense that what I talk about is how its possible for well-meaning individuals, and even one individual person, to make a difference in terms of approaching interfaith relations in the spirit of peace, the spirit of education, and the spirit of really trying to understand rather than to stereotype and to call names,” Niebuhr said.

Associate professor and director of Carnegie Religion and Media Program at Syracuse University Gustav Niebuhr gives his speech as part of the UIndy Interfaith Lecture Series. Niebuhr spoke in McCleary Chapel on Feb. 10. Photo by Tetiana Ntomnits

Associate professor and director of Carnegie Religion and Media Program at Syracuse University Gustav Niebuhr gives his speech as part of the UIndy Interfaith Lecture Series. Niebuhr spoke in McCleary Chapel on Feb. 10. Photo by Tetiana Ntomnits

In his speech, Niebuhr referred to the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, and how that caused an even greater gap between religions and hurt interfaith relations significantly.

“I think that it’s [interfaith is] especially important  over the last 15 years because religion of various forms has wound itself tightly around very dangerous and violent political agendas. So what I try to do is point people towards another way, another possibility,” Niebuhr said.

Niebuhr also spoke about how people in the modern day can bring about a positive change and make more peaceful decisions.

“I think that they [college students] pick the most out of the possibility of interacting at a place that is, in and of itself, diverse,” he said. “Colleges and universities really have populations that allow people to interact with one another, much more so now than when I was in college. And if you can get a sense of who people are—in terms of what they think, what they believe, what they hope for—it’s going to be much easier later on when you encounter those people in the workplace or in your neighborhood.”

After Niebuhr finished his speech, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Associate Professor of Applied Linguistics, English and World Language and Cultures Julie Belz gave a message about acceptance and diversity.  After the speeches, Niebuhr and Belz took questions from the audience. Freshman religion major Zach Chapman said the speeches gave him something to consider.

“I think that one of the interesting points that they [Niebuhr and Belz] brought up that stuck with me is that common things that cause it [violence], that should lead to a lack of tolerance in the country, don’t,” Chapman said. “Gustav brought up 9/11, and how he thought it would tear the country apart as far as religious tolerance goes, but it really brought us together. So it made me think that the things that tear us apart are really opportunities to bring us together.”

After the questions, Niebuhr attended a dinner where students were able to talk with him. Sophomore nursing major Emily Hiland said that Niebuhr’s speech made her rethink the duty of religion.

“I think that the biggest thing [to take away] is how important it is to have those conversations,” she said. “I think it’s really easy to get in your own little frame of mind and say,  ‘Because I am a Christian, I need to surround myself with people who think like me, people who encourage me in my Christian beliefs,’  but that’s not technically what we should be doing or what we are called to do as Christians.”

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