STORY BY ADAM ROGAN
Over a dozen Drake University students trickled into Sussman Theater on the night of March 24, finding seats in the front row and on the stage for the fourth meeting of the newly founded Interfaith club.
The members formed a circle as club president and founder, sophomore Ken Kuniy, fiddled with the projector before the meeting began.
Posing two questions to the group, Kuniy opened the discussion for the evening. “What does it mean to be moral in the perspectives of religion?” and “Does one have to be religious to be moral?”
The goal of Interfaith is not to find definite answers to the questions that are posed, but rather to gain insight into the beliefs and understandings that their peers have, regardless of their differing religious backgrounds.
In order to achieve more intimate discussion they broke up into two smaller groups, each student taking a turn to share his or her own view on the questions while inquiring about the reasoning behind their peers’ beliefs.
Some of the members were raised in their respective religions, while others had found their faith on their own.
The focus of each group’s discussion began with the questions at hand, but broke off quickly into tangential discussions including the philosophical musings of David Hume and Richard Dawkins, “The Lord of the Flies” by William Golding, the science of psychology and the commonalities of cultures.
“All roots of the tree lead to the trunk,” said senior Matt Wright, a Christian, in a conversation about the differences and similarities in religions, a principle that is at the heart of Interfaith.
“Nobody has a perfect theology or morality,” Wright said.
Kuniy started Interfaith, along with fellow sophomore Jesse Kovac, the club’s vice president, after participating in Professor Tim Knepper’s “Philosophy of Religion” class offered last semester.
Several dialogues were held for the class in which students of varying religions discussed their differing beliefs and how they came to have their faith.
“It was just a really awesome experience to be able to talk about my beliefs, talk to other people about their beliefs, ask questions of each other (and) have a really meaningful dialogue with some critical insight from audience members,” Kovac said.
“(It) made me more than excited to get an actual organization going to do that casually and to set up more of those.”
Although Kovac spoke of the direct takeaway he felt from the class’s dialogues, Kuniy focused on the depth and importance that religion held for his classmates.
“One of the things that really stood out to me during the dialogue was how much I learned by listening to these people, how much my understanding of them, their motivations (and) their feelings (increased),” Kuniy said.
“That was something I wanted to continue doing with the entire Drake community,” Kuniy continued. “That was something that I wanted to promote.”
These motivations have translated into the club, now affecting more students than just the founders.
Sophomore Adam Ebel has attended two Interfaith meetings and has already witnessed the impact it can have on campus climate.
“I think everyone who attends these meetings and leads them will gradually grow more tolerant of other people and have a greater understanding,” Ebel said.
“I think Interfaith has a lot of potential to be an organization which can promote a lot of healthy discussion and tolerance.”
In order to achieve that greater understanding Kovac wanted a personal learning experience instead of superficial, solitary research, which is why he helped form Interfaith.
“(I wanted to) get people together and have a more meaningful dialogue than you could get than just Googling about other religions that you don’t belong to.,” Kovac said. “Something where you can actually ask people questions about how they came to those beliefs and what they think about … all sorts of philosophically inclined topics.”
After the two groups concluded their discussions they came back together, as a whole, and shared their realizations.
At one point, Ebel was attempting to explain a unique concept to the rest of the group who was struggling to understand.
His belief set was one that he had crafted on his own, one that made sense to him.
“Is it valuable for you to believe this?” Kuniy asked him.
When Ebel made it clear that it was valuable, the line of questioning shifted from what the foundation for his beliefs was to why he believed what he did and how it affected his everyday life and spiritual journey.
The conversations continued into the hallway and back to the residence halls even after the session came to its close, the dialogue lingering in the minds of the students.
“I absolutely believe that one of the things that Interfaith has the potential to do is to have such great positive effects for the Drake community,” Kuniy said.
“Such as spreading awareness and understanding of different beliefs for the purpose of fostering tolerance and diversity.”
“I think that the way in which we do that is by hearing these different motivations and ideas from fellow students.”