We are nearing the end of the semester, and with that comes the end of our fellowship time together. While I am ready to be done with my term papers and final exams, the ending of the fellowship comes with less enthusiasm. It might be the lack of human connection we have all been experiencing through this pandemic, but I am nostalgic for an experience that isn’t even over yet. After all, there is something odd about making connections with people you have never met in person.
When I applied to the fellowship, I was looking to learn more about religions other than my own. As a religious studies student, religion has always intrigued me but I never had the opportunity to learn about it outside of a classroom setting. With a topic as deeply personal as religion, it’s necessary to actually learn from those who practice the religions you are striving to learn more about. There is something to be said about seeing the religion as a lived experience.
For example, when we had a religious art presentation I went first and shared a photo of the cathedral where I attended Christmas mass; an hour later Yaseen shared beautiful photos from his past trips which included a photo of the very same cathedral. Though Yaseen is not Christian, he had seen the cathedral in its beauty. His relationship with the cathedral was different from my own and yet we both held a level of appreciation for it — and being able to share different personal religious and aesthetic perspectives in this way was amazing, and something totally unique to this fellowship. Now we have all held the shared experience of this fellowship, and I like to think we will come away just a little better than we were before.
My co-fellows have been incredibly kind and have shared the curiosity I have. The fellowship has given all of us the opportunity to learn and discuss, without having our guards up. Christians don’t try to evangelize, atheists don’t try to instill doubt. We are allowed to share freely without being motivated to convince or convert others. We are here to share and learn. I never expected my personal beliefs would change in this fellowship, but learning about my co-fellows’ religions has helped me grow in my own as well.
As a Roman Catholic I was raised to believe that we are all God’s children. I always interpreted that statement to mean that even though we all have individualized experiences, God still loves us all unconditionally and equally. I also have always personally believed that God is greater than religion and that throughout every religion, we are all trying to worship the best way we know how to; this year’s fellowship solidified that belief for me. Learning about the beautiful and awe-inspiring ways my co-fellows practice their respective religions is a privilege I am lucky to have experienced. Because as the saying goes, “to know one is to know none.”
To my co-fellows: Do you feel the fellowship helped you grow as a person or in your own religious practices? Is there anything you have learned through the past year you are grateful to know now?