16 8 / 2012
My name is Matilda Cantwell and I am honored to be the new Multifaith Fellow at Smith College. The Fellowship was designed to provide an opportunity to undertake a project(s) which would enrich religious literacy and interfaith collaboration. Thus I am asking myself, and inviting us at Smith to consider this threefold question: What might we gain from knowing more about our identities as spiritual beings? What should we know about the religious traditions of the world when we graduate from Smith, and how will that knowledge help us to navigate the multicultural, multiracial, and mulitreligious contexts in which we find ourselves? What resources are there in our spiritual orientations that help us confront issues of social justice?
Religion, which is connected to, though not inextricable from, spirituality, can be hard to talk about. Like race and class and sex, is not a very portable topic of conversation — that is, we cannot bring it up, like the weather, anywhere we go. But in our attempts to not tread on the sacred ground of each other’s religious traditions or secular commitments, we often avoid dialogues that might lead to greater understanding. More and more we are learning that religious literacy and what interfaith leader Eboo Patell calls “appreciate knowledge” of world religions is a crucial, and long overlooked, part of multicultural and global understanding. Author of New York Times bestseller Religious Literacy Stephen Prothero says religious illiteracy is at least as pervasive as cultural illiteracy and more dangerous, because “Religion is the most volatile constituent of culture, because religion has been, in addition to one of the greatest forces for good in world history, one of the greatest forces for evil.” Therefore in order to be responsible citizens of the world, we would do well to commit ourselves to learning about the religious traditions that we encounter; on the news, on our study abroad programs, and next door to us in our residence houses. Thus I hope you will join us in stepping out into this rugged, but fascinating and deeply important terrain.
The staff here at the Chapel has been prioritizing interfaith programming and collaboration, and looking at ways that we can meet student needs and incorporate student voices. As I join this exceptional team and embark on this two year fellowship, the most important resource I have for addressing the aims I listed above are your voices. So please talk to me in the fall or before about your thoughts, feelings, and ideas about the role of religious and spiritual life here at Smith, join us for our programming where all are welcome, and stay tuned to this website for more conversation. In particular look for information about participating in the Multifaith Council, which is gearing up for more intense dialogue and programming in 2012-2013.
Matilda Rose Cantwell