Interfaith event aims to promote constructive dialogue among students

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On Feb. 2, two students at the University of Saskatchewan shared what they have learned from years of constructive conversation, hoping to foster a culture of interfaith dialogues and learning on campus.

Brandon Bellows, a third-year statistics and philosophy student, and Ix Lahiji, a fourth-year computer science student, recognized that constructive dialogue is a challenging area for many students. Bellows and Lahiji, a Christian and an atheist, respectively, are good friends from high school who created an event to teach students how to have constructive conversations with those who have a different understanding of faith than their own.

Bellows notes that the ability to create a dialogue that can forward mutual understanding is an important skill for university students to have, which is why he put on this event with the Christian student group Power to Change Ministries.

“People often have really good reasons for why they believe what they believe, so I think that this event is maybe helpful, because it helps us learn how to engage with other people well. And, when there’s all this thinking going on and people have these different views, learning how to communicate [your views] well is an important skill to have,” Bellows said.

The event, titled How to Talk to People of Faith, was held on Feb. 2. Every month, Power to Change hosts an event on a Friday where they bring in speakers to cover a variety of topics related to Christianity.

Lahiji believes university students have the opportunity to strengthen their beliefs or adopt new beliefs through dialogues with one another.

“University is supposed to be about looking at different views, and it is a place of learning. The world is full of a lot of toxicity right now, on a lot of levels,” Lahiji said. “If you want people to understand your point of view in the world, promoting a learning culture in the way you speak is just good.”

The event covered a number of tips for students to have meaningful interfaith conversations, and Bellows believes the main takeaway is to go into conversations with the desire to walk away with a mutual understanding, instead of hoping to change the other person’s mind.

“The foundation is evaluating what your mindset is in a conversation, and what the other person’s mindset is, too,” Bellows said. “If you’re going into a conversation and you’re so confident in your beliefs that you think ‘this person has nothing to offer me,’ then you’re going to try to have a one-sided conversation, where you just want to talk and the other person doesn’t listen.”

Some other tips that Bellows and Lahiji shared are the importance of maintaining a clear focus, not getting too off topic and not trying to purposefully stump the other person. Bellows also believes that an important part of discussing different beliefs is knowing when to say “I don’t know.”

“Speaking from within the Christian community, I know that there’s a bit of pressure that can be felt, when you’re talking to an atheist, to have all the answers,” Bellows said. “It’s really about getting a dialogue started, so that if you’re faced with something that you haven’t encountered before, it’s okay to say ‘I don’t know’ [and] start a dialogue about it, think about it or do some research.”

Bellows hopes the students who attended the event internalized that a productive conversation is not a competition and that it is important to have an open mind when talking to someone, because that is how beliefs are formed.

“It’s really out of dialogue that a person really has an opportunity to come to a choice in what they believe,” Bellows said. “If they understand what you’re saying, that gives them the ability to say ‘I actually agree with these things, so maybe I should evaluate it and look towards believing.’ And of course, the other way, too — hopefully, you can learn from the other person.”

Lyndsay Afseth / Staff Writer

Graphic: Matias Colombres / Flickr