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Interfaith LLC '27 at Rollins Chapel

The heading photo for this post, from left to right, features some of my fellow residents from the Interfaith Living Learning Community: myself (Lily Johnson); Ahmad Wahab; our advisor, Ellie Anders-Thompson; Jeremiah Rayban; Gracie Bartos; Nico Bezzerides; and Andrew Pham. Please note that the Interfaith LLC is trying to recruit people from many worldviews, including secular people, and this will be an ongoing process since our group of six students was the first year the program was reinstated after not exisiting for multiple years. Our LLC was facilitated by the William Jewett Tucker Center for Spritual and Ethical Life at Dartmouth.

Ahmad Wahab—Worldview: Muslim

Favorite Events: I think back to the fall term when we had to go to another place of worship; I went to the mandir and was initially intimated and daunted. I know the history of Hindus and Muslims, but what was foremost in my mind was being respectful. When I got in the mandir, the faculty advisor was also there, and I did not tell anyone I was Muslim. It was a deep experience. I have been in a church, but not interacted with the people inside and seeing them practice. The Hindu mandir was a tightknit community with familiarity, and I realized I wanted to be part of something like that. I did not expect my reaction to be as anxious as it was. It was an amazingly interesting experience that was eye-opening. Photovoice in the winter term; by the end of it I was really into it, after effort was invested into it. Talking about the pictures made me realize how important my community is to me, and I realized this when I was describing it as 'my people'. Being in the space of discussion around the photos made me close to my own religion and I know this because I was speechless and realized it as my identity, not just something from my culture, social aspects, or just because of my parents.

Takeaways: I learned a lot about different religions, especially with Christianity and some of the nuance to it. Learning about the relationship people have with holy books, dieties, gods, and messengers looks very different between religions. I learned about dharmic religions too, it helps to be living with people who are practicing. Religion has importance, which I realized when I applied what I was thinking about philosophy and critiquing religion. Being with people who take their religion seriously in some core sense is not what I was expecting as an international student. This year helped me recognize that religion has its value. When other people are taking their religions seriously it has an impact on the people around them. This has not made me doubt my religion, it has just made my beliefs stronger. Questioning religion is normal and part of typical processes. 

How do you think this experience will impact you going forward? I do not believe in ground-shaking impacts from experiences. It is not something that I expect coming into a community, but it has had fine tuning impacts. It has helped me grow closer to people and make friends that I might not have had otherwise. The community and memories will stick with me.

Ahmad and Lily at Photovoice during the Curation Process
Ahmad and Lily during the Photovoice Curation Process (Photo: Katie Lenhart)

Lily Johnson, Worldview: Path of Sant Mat/Surat Shabd Yoga (adjacent to Sikhism)

Favorite events: The two events that stand out to me the most from this year are our spring group dinners and the Photovoice* project in the winter term. In the spring, each member of the LLC had the choice to either cook a meal or pick out a meal to order. Andrew and I were able to make meals from our family background and cultural preferences and they were delicious, and the other members picked out some good takeout meals partially because the term got so busy that planning and cooking a meal was not feasible. Anyways, as a group we had weekly meals together all year, but being able to pick out/cook meals added a whole other level of connection to the experience. Eating and not checking our phones helped us focus on the conversations. In terms of Photovoice, I loved learning about how similar our day to day experiences were to one another even though there were certainly distinct aspects from our different worldviews. Our conversations helped me learn more about myself and my peers. From the photos we also developed insights into some themes and used them as a basis for some basic advocacy work in the spring.

Takeaways: Living in community with a bunch of other people with varying beliefs and prior experiences was incredible, and the cherry on top is that we wanted to have engaging dialogue about our connections and differences. There were some ways that my worldview did not match at all with my peers and other times what they described was similar or identical to aspects of my worldview. Being in a small community was great, by the end of the year we all knew each other quite well. 

How do you think this experience will impact you going forward? I was already planning to minor in religion, but this year in the LLC has solidified that for me; part of being successful with interfaith efforts is to have a knowledge base. Beyond that I want to go with my friends to different faith services and keep having incredible conversations about the theology, the challenges, and everything else that comes along with asking big questions. Next year I am working as a Tucker Center Interfaith Spring Break Trip Fellow, something I participated in this year and am stoked to help curate it for next spring.

Nico Bezzerides, Worldview: Orthodox Christian

Favorite events: I really enjoyed Photovoice; I liked that there was some conscious effort and I wish I had put more effort into it, but winter is also not the best time for a project about our experience on campus since mobility is limited. There is something special about photography, hearing people's experiences and their lives. I developed some healthy holy envy from seeing Lily and Ahmad's prayer and meditation mats. I liked the dinners a lot this spring, especially seeing Andrew and Lily make foods from their backgrounds. Andrew had not made his meal before, so he was discovering the process of making it and said it was how it was supposed to be, which made me feel like he was saying 'you are here with me' and experiencing this with me. The UCM (United Campus Ministers) meeting the morning after the May 1st arrests proved to be effective timing. I also liked the iftar at the beginning of spring term. 

Takeaways: This experience led me to a greater appreciation for the diversity of religious traditions that exist and diversity of personal experience with religion. It's been cool to be around people who don't have my faith background but have a deep reverence for their values and beliefs. Holy envy has been important for me over the course of the year, to see it as not only okay, but important as the year has progressed. This meshes with my own viewpoint of being able to see truth everywhere from my Orthodox worldview perspective. Seeing God everywhere in a number of ways. 

How do you think this experience will impact you going forward? I think it will impact my Dartmouth and life experiences quite a bit. I feel like I do not specifically attribute this impact to the LLC influence, but it also includes my experiences in my first year at Dartmouth more broadly. I know the kind of person I want to be and have an idea of how to get there, at least the beginning of how to. Meditation is interesting to me right now. The concept of missionally driven, something our advisor Ellie talked about when she introduced herself at the beginning of the year that Lily and Gracie related with has stuck with me, I felt guilt that I was not thinking in that way. Other people are doing something good, beneficial, worthwhile, and my solution is to incorporate those ideas into my life. I have been asking myself: what impact do I want to have in the world? I think that as humans it is our calling to be there for other people.

Ahmad and Nico during the Photovoice curation process
Ahmad and Nico during the Photovoice Curation Process (Photo: Katie Lenhart)

Jeremiah Rayban, Worldview: Non-denominational Christian

Favorite events: I really liked the fall events with the passport program, especially going to the Muslim prayer room and the mandir at Rollins Chapel. It was interetsing to experience cultures and not just learn about them. I also liked going to Aquinas House. I enjoyed Photovoice, and it improved my photography skills. Photos are common but they have an impact on our lives and emotions and say a lot about the world. I enjoyed the dinners in the spring: the iftar and the mindful dinner with the monks, where we talked with people about their practices, beliefs and worldviews.

Takeaways: Every worldview has some benefits to offer, and you can take lessons and ideas from other belief systems. For example, I can learn a lesson on discipline from Islam even if I don't agree with their perception of Jesus. This experience allowed me to see how other people live. In today's world it is an important skill to have to be able to interact with people from a variety of backgrounds. Religion and what it means to people's identities is comparable to speaking in native languages. In this setting everyone has similar reactions of contemplation or higher values being explored.

How do you think this experience will impact you going forward? It has impacted my attitude, beyond religion it helped me understand communicating across differences. Religion has historical division and is a microcosm of a need for dialogue in general, so I consider it in the context of it being an important world challenge. I have gained more patience. The guardrail (general guidelines for our group) of don't compare your best to their worst stood out to me this year. I want to be fair-minded even if it is something I vehemently disagree on to be able to have discussions about entrenched beliefs.

Andrew, Nico, and Lily having a late night conversation in a dorm space
Andrew, Nico, and Lily having a late night conversation

Andrew Pham, Worldview: Buddhist

Favorite Events: We did one main event per term. My favorite was the Thanksgiving dinner, followed by the passport visits. At the Thanksgiving dinner, it was nice to have a larger group with friends, to eat together, and I enjoyed designing the event poster. Eating together all year improved the experience, it forced me to be present and think more about the conversation. The passport program in the fall was good for familiarity with campus and going to places I would not normally go to. 

Takeaways: I do not think we made that much of an impact; we talked about our experiences but did we do anything to cause change. I do consider though that we are the 'first generation' though so it is still in the works and not super structured just yet. This is also the challenge of being freshman in a ten-week term system. I am excited to see what the years after us are able to acheive. I came out of the LLC being more interfaith-minded and able to understand other worldview experiences. 

How do you think this experience will impact you going forward? I am more considerate when I thinks of people's faiths. Faith in itself is not bad, there are negative people and extremists, but that is specific to people and should not define the whole faith. I think it is best to put our differences aside and work for a better future without having to proselytize everyone. It has affected my mindset more than anything. 


*Check out the website that the Tucker Center created to see the Photovoice project and the website for the Interfaith LLC.

Gracie, whose worldview is Episcopal, was unable to find time for an interview due to a busy schedule.

If this post was interesting for you, also consider looking at my posts from the last two terms related to interfaith:

Fall Term

Winter Term

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