Religion: A Topic of Unity, Connection, and Memories – Amy Yadev

My first meaningful discussion about religion on the UW-Madison campus occurred at the residence hall I stayed at my freshmen year. A floormate and I were the only two people sitting in the lounge that day, and we had recently begun to become friends. She started the conversation by asking me what my thoughts were about religion. I didn’t know how to respond — as my mind raced with thoughts, I wondered if she would think I was weird if I admitted how much my religion has truly influenced my life. As we discussed the role of our religious beliefs in shaping who we were as people, I was surprised to see how much in common we both had. My friend did not have any specific religion she observed but still expressed feeling spiritual.

We expressed many commonalities about the role of religion: we both agreed that many religions strive to promote peace among their devotees and emphasize the goal for one to be the best version of themselves. At the end of the conversation, I was surprised at how smoothly the conversation had gone and how much I had enjoyed it. Typically, religion was not a topic that was discussed in my high school classes. In fact, religion was considered a divisive topic. This is because many people associated religion with religious extremists that resort to violence if they feel there is a threat to their faith. Furthermore, because religions often provide guidance to their followers on how to be moral, they can create divides between who is a good vs. bad person. After the conversation with my friend, though, I realized that instead of being divisive, religion could be a topic of unity. We both had respect for each other’s opinions and beliefs and made a conscious effort to understand how those beliefs guided our daily actions and interactions with other people.

After this conversation, I wanted to seek out more opportunities that would allow me to learn about various religions, beliefs, customs and how others worship (or do not worship) on campus. My desire was further fueled by memories of my childhood trips to India. When I visited India, we not only visited the holiest site for Sikhs (the Golden Temple or Darbar Sahib) but also various Hindu temples or Mandirs. I had the opportunity to witness pujas (Hindu worship ritual) being performed. In my grandparents’ village, located close to the Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) where we went every day, was a Mosque. Every morning and evening, I heard prayers recited over the loudspeaker from the Mosque. It was beautiful to see how peacefully people of many religious backgrounds co-existed in the village.  

Putting together my experiences of religion, I realized religion impacts the lives of people in all parts of the world – from Punjab, India to the Leopold dorm in Madison, WI. Historically, religion is responsible for many of the world’s cultural and civilizational developments, influencing law, politics, literature, music, education and much more. As an interfaith fellow, I will have the chance to better understand how religion functions in our culture. I am excited to expand on that initial discussion about religion with my friend and build deeper, meaningful connections with the other CRGC fellows and our campus community.

How have you seen conversations about religion happening on campus? How are these conversations similar or different than what you would expect?

12 thoughts on “Religion: A Topic of Unity, Connection, and Memories – Amy Yadev”

  1. I enjoyed reading about your experiences on campus, Amy! I can identify with the feeling that religious conversation can be uncomfortable on a college campus. You brought up how ideas of morality can differ across religions, this is something I personally feel makes it difficult to be open about my own religious identity. As a practicing Christian, I sometimes feel that within my own faith community I do not share many of the same views of “morality” that others do. I also feel that speaking to others about religion’s impact on my life could be seen as strange by others, so it is so nice to hear that speaking about religion’s impact on your life was welcomed by the other student. To answer your question, I personally have not seen many conversations about religion happening on campus. Truthfully, my experience with the absence of interfaith dialogue is what I expect on a college campus. I tend to think of the public university campus as a secular space with smaller groups of students practicing shared religions. After reading about your experiences, I am increasingly looking forward to having open interfaith dialogue with you and the other fellows this year!

    1. Grace, thank you for your thoughtful response! I definitely agree with you – it is hard to have differing viewpoints about topics such as morality within a religion when it seems everyone else seems to view morality the same way. It is interesting to think about how various religions describe what characteristics make a person moral vs. unmoral and how this can sometimes contradict across religions. I hope to explore this deeper with you and the other fellows! For the most part, I have not seen much interfaith dialogue on campus either unless I was in a religious studies class. I had a few conversations on my dorm floor freshmen year about religion, and some people were open and receptive while others made it clear they were not interested or even disliked the topic of religion which I found interesting. However, I am excited to discuss religion with you and the other interfaith fellows!

  2. Great post, Amy. It struck me that the moment you chose to share with us was one that occurred in a dorm room lounge, and not in a decidedly religious or even academic setting. I think it’s important to recognize that a person’s religion isn’t just a matter of politics or academic study but has impacts on everyday life as well. Of course, some would say “the personal is political” in response to that.

    To answer your question, the only discussion of religion I’ve encountered outside an actual Religious Studies classroom was a decent-sized crowd gathered around a preacher (?) at Library Mall. The man was talking with a bunch of students and from what I heard, they were engaging in an impromptu debate on the merits of Christian creationism, arguing about God as a “watchmaker” and the complexity of the human eye. It was quite a weird experience, and now I regret that I couldn’t stick around and observe for longer.

    1. Hi Ben, thank you for sharing your experience! Your time with the preacher at Library Mall sounds very interesting! It sounds like there were many components to that conversation, and I see why you would want to stick around longer (I would as well). I think the impromptu debates centered around a topic of religion indicate that religion can be very integrated within the lives of people. Personally, I think this is exactly what makes religion so beautiful: the ability for someone to believe what they like and then share (even defend) why they have those systems of beliefs. I look forward to speaking with you about how religion impacts our lives on an intimate level and as you said, not only in politics or academic study!

  3. I really enjoyed hearing your thoughts about how religion can be unifying, Amy! Similar to the other comments, I have not seen many instances of religious conversations happening on campus outside of my own personal conversations with others. When I first moved to Madison from a very small town, I thought that there would be a lot more religious conversation since it is a more diverse area. The conversations I have been able to have with others have been very rewarding and eye-opening, just like your experience, so I hope that we can inspire more people to realize the unifying force that religion can be.

  4. Amy, I really enjoyed reading your blogpost! I can definitely attest to also being worried about coming off as “weird” when telling others, particularly my peers, about the impact religion has had on my life, so I’m glad to hear that you had a productive conversation with your floormate. In addition, I can also specifically empathize with the role of India in fueling the desire towards learning about religion. I also visited India as a child, which is where my mother is from. To this day, I still vividly remember being amazed by the passion of religion there—how religion and life are not two separate entities, but one and the same. Another concept that you touched upon is the religious diversity in India; contrary to popular belief, the country is not only constituted by Hindus, but also Muslims, Sikhs, and even Christians. I’m definitely looking forward to sharing our experiences together regarding India later this year. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this post, Amy! Although I was raised Catholic, I can still relate to and understand receiving judgment from peers when discussing the topic of religion and an overall generalized stigma of the subject in casual conversation. One specific concept from this article that resounded with me was the point you made regarding India, and how it served as an inspiration to further your religious journey; as a young child, I also visited India and had a very similar experience there, being fascinated with the religious passion that pervades the country. From my experience there, life and religion were not separate concepts, but one and the same. Here in the United States, I feel as though religion, for many, is not as ingrained in everyday life as it is there. I also appreciated how you touched upon the religious diversity there, and how India is not just constituted by Hindus, but Sikhs, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians. India, as a country, fascinates me, and I am looking forward to discussing our experiences there more during this fellowship!

  6. Amanjot, I relate to a tee of what it feels like to admit how much our faith can influence our lives. I cannot begin to imagine what my life would look like without Sikhi. And by reading your post, you value Sikhi immensely. I was lucky that my roommate freshman year and I shared a conversation about faith. It was so deep and was so unexpectedly easy to talk with her. It’s beauty that I was able to realize in our friendship that day when we had that conversation about faith because despite our different faiths, our values were grounded in the same place in our philosophies. Looking back, I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure to share conversations that moving with many people but I hope that through this fellowship I share more conversations like that. I appreciated your inclusion of that detail about the Gurdware, Mandirs and Masjids, that coexistence between the religions is still alive and well in Punjab. I especially related to the speakers in the morning and evening. The speakers were right behind our house lol. I haven’t been back in a long time, but I hope to return to the pind soon. I enjoyed reading your post and I look forward to future conversations with you 🙂

  7. Well done Amy this post is not only well written but it resonates a lot with me. I too have had the same experience of feeling anxious and almost insecure about the influence that religion has on my life, but as I grew older I began to also realize that for every 1 person that disrespects other peoples religion there are 99 others that respect it. I’ve had many thought provoking and respectful conversations with people practicing Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and more. With every conversation making believe even more that all religions have the end goal of peace and prosperity with the only difference being the steps they believe that one should take to achieve that. As I continue meeting new people I am now eager to share my religious experiences with other people and listen to what they believe in because it is through respectful dialogue that we as a society can come closer to each other and be one. Once again thank you for sharing your story!

  8. Thank you for your post Yadev! I completely understand what you said about religion being considered a divisive topic in high school. I went to a small high school in Wisconsin and there was very little mention of religion, and if there was it usually wasn’t discussed in a positive way. I never really had a deep conversation about my faith (Islam) until senior year. This conversation happened with a stranger in an Oasis rest stop between Milwaukee and Chicago and it lasted hours. It’s incredible how faith unites two people. I ended up taking a gap year before college to learn more about my faith. While I don’t have many conversations about faith, spirituality, or religion outside of my apartment here in Madison, the 4 friends I live with are so close to me because we bond over such similarities. I am so excited to have an open dialogue with you this year, I am eager to be enlightened by your experiences and thoughts.

  9. Amy, thank you for sharing this personal experience with us. I believe that one of the most important outcomes of this fellowship is that we gain religious literacy, so that we can take our conversations here and spread them around our own communities. Religion is so stigmatized and stereotyped, and I believe we would all benefit from more discussions like yours in the residence hall. I look forward to learning and growing with you this year!

  10. Hi Amy! I find it very interesting how you used theoretically very different examples (a dorm lounge and village in India) to demonstrate how religions can be harmonious and even unifying. A few things, in my mind, can cross geographical and chronological barriers like religion and I feel if that power can be harnessed the world would be possed to have a much brighter future. After reading your post, I realized I have never really experience fear in talking about religion nor explaining my own and this is probably a result of my particular beliefs. I was Christian in an area and at a time when being so was very much the norm and I am an Atheist in social circles where it is somewhat celebrated. This is a privilege I wasn’t consciously aware of until now, so thank you! I look forward to getting to talk more in the future 🙂

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