The interfaith network is making me the person I thought I was – Hannah Kwiatkowski

This weekend the CRGC fellows hosted the university’s first regional interfaith conference, titled Intersections of Interfaith. In the months we spent planning this event, we all made the consideration of the spiritual and logistical needs of our invitees a top priority. Every week I took pride in watching the other fellows advocate for not only the needs of spiritual groups they identified with, but to groups we see are marginalized in our society. As a member of the hospitality committee and a workshop facilitator, I had many opportunities to reflect on my consideration of the spiritual groups outside my own, and my personal biases that have held me back in the interfaith community.

Growing up in a church with a tight relationship with the other Abrahamic faiths in our community, I was aware of and excited by interfaith. I was no stranger to cosponsored service trips with Churches of other denominations, and other Abrahamic youth groups. I considered myself open, knowledgeable, and experienced. While my exposure to other faiths was a great start for my journey, a problematic belief remained; the idea that Christians, Jews, and Muslims working to serve our shared God and community was enough. I only considered interfaith from the lense of my Abrahamic bubble. I had never considered that the presence of Hindus, Jains, Pagans, Secularists, etc. in the world meant that I had to consider them in my thoughts of interfaith, much less that they were a part of my interfaith community. My experiences as an interfaith fellow have shown me that interfaith is so much more than groups I can relate to. My responsibility as a Christian is to acknowledge faiths that are dissimilar to my own, hear them, and help provide a space for them to be heard by others.

On top of faiths I was previously blind to, I have been confronted with my biases against faith groups similar to my own. As a reformed Christian in a liberal town it was easy for me to choose to surround myself with like minded people. Though my religious social circle was diverse in terms of Abrahamic affiliation or Christian denomination, we were all of reformed faith with liberal ideologies. A disregard for orthodox, traditional, or conservative ideologies was common. As I grew older, I learned to respond to comments that did not align with my values with a simple eye roll. My traditions were reformed and therefore “right”. How could I create an inclusive and fruitful dialogue in my workshop if I blocked out everyone with traditions and beliefs different from my own? I could not. To achieve my goals for the workshop I made the conscious effort to be uncomfortable. I listened without the expectation of being heard. I reflected on the privilege my identity gives me and encouraged others to do the same.

I am never going to be perfect. There will always be perspectives I have not considered, or biases I unintentionally have. But as a member of the interfaith network I am always becoming better, kinder, and more aware. The power of exposure to ideologies that are dissimilar to mine, and the constant encouragement to confront my preconceived notions of what faith is, and what it should look like, brings me ever closer to becoming the person I believed I was at the beginning of my journey through the interfaith network.

– Hannah Kwiatkowski

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