Multi-faith group explores different religious avenues

By  Nisheeta Menon, Youth Speak News
  • March 25, 2008

TORONTO - The University of Toronto’s Multi-Faith Centre for Spiritual Study and Practice has piloted a new project: four multi-faith discussion groups operating across the downtown Toronto campus.

The idea for these discussion groups came about when students began approaching the director of the centre, Richard Chambers, expressing a desire to interact with students of other religious backgrounds.

“There was an obvious need to create a way for students of diverse faiths to ask informal questions and engage important issues,” said Chambers.

“In high school, I was really involved in chaplaincy,” said participant and Catholic student Nathali Rosado Ferrari. “Coming to university, everything was so secular. I wanted to see faith in the student community — to learn about others’ perspective on the world.”

The five-week multi-faith discussion groups were inspired by the model set out in The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Searching for Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner. As of January, four religiously diverse groups have been meeting to discuss their religious stereotypes, their unique understanding of God and the role of religion in society.

The ultimate aim of these groups, Chambers said, is “to go beyond accommodating religious diversity, to engaging it.”

Rosado Ferrari said she has gained interesting insights from the group discussion.

“The Muslim faith is very similar to Christianity. I especially liked the discussion of Mary in the Qu’ran. It describes what she actually went through while pregnant with Jesus. To me, it completes her story and makes me want to learn more about her.”

As controversial as some of the group’s discussions might be, Chambers said the biggest challenge many students face is a lack of understanding of their own faith.

“They often go home with homework in order to answer questions others ask about their religion,” he said.

Week four of the group’s discussion schedule required the group to explore prayers, Holy Scripture and other inspirational writings from different faiths.

“I am learning a lot about Roman Catholicism, especially in regards to forms of prayer like the rosary,” said Evangelical student Harmony Law. “I currently take a course in World Religions, but it’s objective and doesn’t give you a chance to talk to people of other faiths.”

Chambers said the archdiocese of Toronto and local Catholics have been particularly supportive of this new endeavour.

“The church is truly exercising its role as a responsible citizen,” he said.

The U of T Multi-Faith Centre, located at 569 Spadina Ave., opened in September 2007 as part of what Chambers calls “a wider movement to recognize the spiritual dynamic of the holistic person.” The centre offers public lectures and panel discussions, on-site chaplaincy, social events, opportunity for solitary contemplation and reflection and community service opportunities.

For information contact Chambers at

(Menon, 20, studies Christianity and Culture at the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto.)

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