The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life has demonstrated a commitment to multifaith engagement that was solidified with the construction of the Numen Lumen Pavilion in 2013. 

The building itself is a representation of our mission to provide a “safe place for spiritual growth, worldview exploration (religious and secular) and interfaith engagement.” However, our work has been met with criticism on many levels. 

Instead of using my breath (or in this case, my keyboard) to try and shout why our work is great and why people should listen, I would like to use this piece constructively to express how we can improve our words and actions.

One of the main themes emerging in criticisms of interfaith work is that the crowd that we engage gets lumped together in a giant conglomerate of peace, love and neoliberalism. This is sometimes seen as a threat to peoples’ faith backgrounds that do not include interfaith involvement, and at other times it comes across as a push for some kind of watered-down religiosity for those who do not wish to engage in religious practice.

This neoliberalism is evident in some settings, and we have recognized that this is not the only way to engage in interfaith work. It is not the most effective, sustainable way to go about promoting a more just world. 

While safe space might imply a “peace-and-love-and-nothing-else” type of atmosphere where people set aside their problems — which can be a good thing — it is also a space to foster difficult conversations and address problems head-on. Some of the issues we have tackled in our lectures, events and conversations include religious literacy, race, gender, sex and sexuality, spiritual identity, privilege and inter religious conflict — all on a personal and societal level.

I have seen people leave some of these events angry, and I myself have been angry and uncomfortable with some of our conversations. However, the conversations I’ve had at the Truitt Center have been the most transformative experiences of my college career. They have forced me to be accountable for what I say and do, as well as what I don’t say or do. 

In that space, I am confronted with my privilege but am safe to explore facets of my identity that do not give me privilege. Likewise, the space empowers me to continue difficult conversations with friends and family members, as well as to act upon my beliefs to positively impact the lives of others.

The point of interfaith conversation is not to force your beliefs onto others, nor is it to give them up altogether. Instead, it is to sit in your discomfort (and even to become more comfortable with it) while recognizing the common heart of humanity that fills the room regardless (and because of) respectful disagreement.