For each meal, a few dozen young people of diverse religious backgrounds will aim to get to know one another to see beyond and discuss their differences. Besides The Temple, the dinners are sponsored by the Candler School of Theology, a Methodist seminary, and the Madina Institute, an Islamic studies degree program in Duluth.
Graduate-age students sat down March 28 for a Mediterranean dinner, thanks to a learning grant that covered the cost of the meals.
Deanna Womack, an assistant professor at Candler, integrated the dinner initiative into a new course because she recognized that the majority-Christian class populace should engage in dialogue with people of different religions rather than only read about them.
“The students in my ‘Jewish-Christian-Muslim Dialogue’ course at Candler are training to be church pastors and Christian scholars,” she said. “At a time of rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in this country, such Christian leaders need interreligious awareness and the ability to lead their congregations to engage positively with neighbors of multiple faiths. I envision these dinners as a way to put our classroom learning into practice.”
The discussion at the first meal was designed by the Emory students for participants to get to know one another outside their religious identities. Small groups formed, and while they ate, eating practices and the food or laws around them, along with how music connects with someone’s sense of religious identity, were main topics of conversation.
The Emory students will plan guidelines for the discussions at the next two dinners, set for April 12 and 19.
Womack is hopeful that the program will break down barriers and foster connections as students keep in touch. The rising concerns over Islamophobia and anti-Semitism have inspired dialogue in her classroom.
“I hope these dinners can help to break down those senses of isolation we can all sometimes feel within those dividing lines of difference,” Womack said. “Sharing conversation over a meal is one simple way to break down barriers of religious difference and to see the common humanity that we all share.”