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Monday, Nov 29, 2021

New Mercer organization seeks to spark interfaith dialogue

BEARS club members participate in a weekly meeting.
BEARS club members participate in a weekly meeting.

A new Mercer organization, Bears Engaged Across Religion, was approved by the Student Government Association last month. B.E.A.R. aims to reach students with religious and nonreligious backgrounds to participate in an interfaith dialogue about faith traditions. 

Comprised mostly of senior students, B.E.A.R. is the successor to an organization from seven years ago, the Mercer Interfaith Alliance. Mercer professor Eimad Houry, who is the chair of the international and global studies department, served as the Alliance’s adviser, and wanted to see a similar group come back to campus. 

“When the Mercer Interfaith Alliance (MIA) group was established, there seemed to be a lot of interest on campus,” Houry said. “I had participated with several colleagues in several interfaith conversations sponsored by the university, but there was no forum for students to have this type of discussion.”

While the Mercer Interfaith Alliance and B.E.A.R have similar focuses, B.E.A.R. has a specific purpose in promoting interfaith dialogue. 

“The idea is to mobilize people of faith to work together to deal with difficult issues locally and internationally,” Houry said. “We want to encourage interfaith collaboration to work on specific problems by offering interfaith responses.”

He started reaching out to students primarily from the international and global studies department over the summer to see who might be interested in doing this type of outreach and service work on campus.

Eight founding students have since been developing their plans for what they want B.E.A.R. to be and planning events for the semester. Though they founded the organization, B.E.A.R. does not have a traditional executive board. In an email, founding member Kaila Banker said that all members actively participate in events, meetings and goals.

B.E.A.R. has established five specific objectives: to introduce students to religious traditions that they may not have known about before, bring existing religious organizations together to collaborate on events and projects, contribute to Mercer’s community of respect, provide service for common community issues by mobilizing and engaging religious organizations and establish a platform celebrating religious diversity.

“There are a lot of stereotypes out there about what religion means, and we would like people to share what their religion means to them and have them also answer questions that people may have about their beliefs,” Banker said. “Our goal is not to proselytize to anyone, but to educate and share.” 

Houry said he thinks B.E.A.R. is a necessary addition to Mercer’s campus right now.

“I believe that this organization fills a critical vacuum that currently exists on campus. In this day and age, and considering all the misinformation that exists about religion and religions, interfaith dialogue is more important than ever,” Houry said.

Banker also said that they do not want to generalize any religious traditions, which is why a lot of their goals rely on participants’ personal experiences.

Currently, B.E.A.R. has met with multiple religious organizations, including the Wesley Foundation, Delight Ministries and the Muslim Student Association. They still want to meet with different organizations and students who represent different faiths, and are open to anyone regardless of religious background. 

The group currently invites interested students to their Wednesday meetings at 10 a.m. in Groover Hall or their Religious Expo event Oct. 25 on Cruz Plaza from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. They plan to have different organizations for individuals unrepresented by organizations to explain their religions and traditions.

“We hope to bring the campus together to engage in service to the community,” Banker said. “To show that we all have common goals regardless of belief systems.”


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