Southwestern University Faculty Statement on Religious Diversity*
Approved by the Faculty on April 24, 2003
Southwestern University is a crossroads for a range of communities. We are a meeting place for and home to a wide array of cultures, multiple generations, an assortment of academic disciplines, and a range of differing perspectives. Consonant with the educational mission of The United Methodist Church, our United Methodist heritage, and Southwestern University’s Core Purpose - fostering a liberal arts community whose values and actions encourage contributions toward the well being of humanity - we recognize that diversity in one category is impossible without diversity in others. We are a meeting place for differing religious beliefs and practices as well as spiritualities and we encourage, and are committed to providing institutional support to, a diversity of religious traditions, spiritualities and ethical systems.
As a community we are committed to the creation of an environment welcoming to people who pursue a variety of meaningful ideas and practices. Our profound commitment is to respect every individual, to be truthful and act with integrity, to pursue peace and justice, and to seek to build communities. For all of us these principles are not merely exhortations but rather standards by which we try to live our lives everyday. As a result, religious life at Southwestern University reflects not only communities of faith but also recognizes spiritual and ethical traditions that are not based on religious practice, and we understand that an enlightened model of religious diversity encourages the presence and perspective of humanists, agnostics, and atheists.
As a religiously plural community, we recognize that while there are many times and much that we will choose to celebrate together, there should be times for Catholics to be together with Catholics, Muslims with Muslims, Hindus with Hindus, Jews with Jews, Methodists with Methodists, and so on. We are committed therefore, to making it as easy as possible for students, faculty, and staff to celebrate their own holy days, hold their own retreats and say their own prayers within their respective religious communities. We believe there must be occasions and places where each religious group feels itself to be the norm and where the participants are literate in the practices in a unique tradition. We do not impose our particular religious practices on others; at the same time, we welcome friends and visitors at all our activities. We facilitate participation of Southwestern students in religious communities beyond the campus, and welcome our neighbors to religious practices and celebrations on campus.
Our goal is to be appropriately respectful and appreciative of our various religious traditions and those whose traditions are non-religious. We seek to provide educational opportunities for each of us to learn about one another’s cultures and practices. While we recognize the need for each group to spend time apart from others, we also recognize the need to get to know each other better, to enrich our lives by learning from people whose religious practices differ from ours and people who do not identify themselves with an historical religious community. Dialogue can sometimes be painful; the legacies of intolerance run through the histories of almost all religions. Respectful dialogue, nevertheless, is the first step in modeling a peaceful world, in welcoming what is strange, in making new friends, and, for those who so choose, in deepening our spiritual lives. But no position should be imposed from one person on another. We welcome dialogues based on mutual consent in which the explanation of each person’s secular or religious position is offered.
As a liberal arts university, Southwestern expects its students and faculty to develop their intellects to the greatest extent possible. Through our curriculum and through many activities outside the classroom, we seek to strengthen the academic disciplines and the interconnections among them. We are a university committed to the view that the intellect can most fruitfully develop in an environment where there are also opportunities for those who desire spiritual seeking and religious life. We do not ask members of the community to relate intellect and spirit, but understand that a vital community of learning invites conversations between and among people of particular religious faiths and those with no faith or affiliation. Such conversations are integral to our growth and development as a liberal arts community whose values and actions encourage contributions toward the well being of humanity - in this sense too, then, we are a crossroads community.
*We have used Earlham College’s official statement on religious diversity as a template for this document. Their statement can be found at earlham.edu/policies/rel-life.html.