Students, faculty and staff present at the Parliament of the World's Religions

Elon University sent 20 delegates to the international interfaith gathering and presented two workshops at the conference.

Jan Fuller and Brian Pennington with staff and students from the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life
A group of 20 from Elon University students, faculty and staff participated in the Parliament of the World’s Religions, the largest interfaith gathering in the world, Oct. 15-19, in Salt Lake City.

The Elon delegation included eleven students, one alumna and eight faculty and staff. Nearly 10,000 people gathered from over 80 countries and 50 different religious traditions and worldviews to focus on reconciliation across religions, overcoming violence against women and children, world poverty and rising income inequality, and the crisis of global climate change.

The Elon delegation presented two workshops at the conference. The first, “Deep and Wide: Developing an Interfaith Program on a College Campus,” shared stories, strategies and successes from Elon’s strategic focus on diversity education and muti-faith engagement. Elon presenters included Jan Fuller, university chaplain; Brian Pennington, director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society; Rabbi Meir Goldstein, associate chaplain for Jewish life; Diana Abrahams, multi-faith coordinator; alumna Morgan Redmond ’15; and students Maggie Liston, Miranda Baker, Courtney McKelvey, Elizabeth Reeve and Kristen Burke.

Student Alexandra McCorkle '18 presenting with Emily DeMaioNewton '18 and Margaret Bryant '16
The second workshop, “Mindfulness for College Students: Cultivating Spiritual Wellness and Compassion Across Traditions,” focused on recent efforts at Elon to promote mindfulness, the benefits of mindfulness for college students, and the ways that mindfulness brings students together from diverse backgrounds and worldviews, both religious and non-religious. Elon presenters included Joel Harter, associate chaplain for Protestant life; Jennifer Brigman, counselor; and Julie Lellis, associate professor of communications. The workshop highlighted the importance of student leadership in promoting mindfulness, with sudent stories and meditation exercises led by Margaret Bryant, president of Iron Tree Blooming; Elizabeth DeMaioNewton, multi-faith intern; Alexandra McCorkle, president of Elon Yoga Club; and Kelly Foran, past president of Iron Tree Blooming.

The conference offered a unique opportunity for students to interact with people from all over the world, to engage positively with a wide range of religious diversity, and to present their own stories and ideas on an international stage. The two Elon workshops received positive feedback from colleagues at Williams College, Yale University, and Northeastern University, to name a few, and it was a great chance to showcase the work that Elon is doing with diversity education and multi-faith engagement.

“I thoroughly enjoyed Parliament,” says Shelby Lewis ’16, “because it was a remarkable demonstration of power in numbers. Ten thousand people from all over the world came together for a common cause. It sounds like a small number given the scope of the human population, but nonetheless it gives me hope.” 

That common cause was compassion and justice. “The overall vibe of the conference was a mixture of acceptance, compassion and respect. There seemed to be a general acknowledgment that we, as human beings, are all connected, despite our differences,” says Kelly Foran ’15, who is currently enrolled in Elon’s Interactive Media program. “The diversity of people at Parliament only amplified this acknowledgment as I believe everyone was genuinely interested in learning about one another and the differences we share. It was a powerful and overall amazing experience.”

Alexandra McCorkle, Rabbi Meir Goldstein, Margaret Bryant, and Jan Register at Langar lunch
The generosity and kindness of the Sikh community especially was a welcome highlight. Every day, they served a free vegetarian lunch (a langar) to 7,500 conference attendees. “It was so cool to learn about another religious tradition through direct experience,” Ali McCorkle ’18 says. “The food was always delicious, but what struck me most was the outpouring of love. It was also a wonderful forum for interfaith dialogue, and some of the most interesting conversations I engaged in were over chai tea after the meal with whoever happened to be sitting next to me.” 

Emily DeMaioNewton ’18 highlighted an unexpected spiritual experience. “I went to a Sikh worship service, not knowing anything about what it would be like, and it ended up being one of the most spiritual experiences I’ve ever had,” DeMaioNewton says. “I’ve never felt spiritual in churches or organized religious services, but during the Sikh service, which involved music, meditation and yoga, I felt very spiritual. It was incredible.”

Tibetan Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at Parliament
Jan Register, program assistant for the Truitt Center, summed up well the feelings of all the faculty and staff who joined the students at Parliament.  For her, the highlight was “watching our students make the most of the conference—engaging others with such enthusiasm and curiosity, reflecting together on what they were learning and experiencing, and seeing their poise and understanding in their workshop presentations.” 

The Elon delegation will be sharing what they learned at Parliament on Nov. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the McBride Gathering Space of the Numen Lumen Pavilion. All are welcome.  

Chaplain Jan Fuller also contributed a reflection for the The PendulumThe Parliament of the World’s Religions: A Microcosm of a More Peaceful World — and Brian Penningtion wrote a post for the academic blog Sacred MattersPeace, Love, and World Religions?

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