Blog > Spirit of Social Change: Reflections on a conversation
A member from the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, shares her experience and those of other youth participants, at the "Spirit of Social Change: Reflections on a conversation” event at the Bridging the Secular Divide Conference at McGill University, Montreal.A remarkably high percentage of Bridging the Secular Divide
Conference attendees were students and youth activists. The Couchiching Institute and Inspirit Foundation hosted a lunchtime event to allow these young people to share a meal and discuss how to bridge their personal beliefs with their day-to-day community involvement and political participation. These students, who belonged to student clubs ranging from the Secularist to the Orthodox, had a discussion framed around several central questions and ideas: how do young people view the connection between their beliefs and their actions in the world? Can religions address the common good, or are they only concerned with their particular interests? What does it take to motivate youth to contribute to social progress? What are the particularities within each religious tradition fund a commitment to a pluralist ethos? The charismatic Rob Joustra, who teaches religious studies at Redeemer College, moderated the discussion.
Participants spoke openly about their struggles coming to term with their own religious identities, and the experiences that brought them to espouse the beliefs that guide their community participation. How each participant arrived at his or her own beliefs differed. One graduate student in theology stated: “I think a set of ethics chose me, I don’t know if I chose them. I had to accept it. It informed my interpretation of my faith. To me they were there. They were truth and ethics that said, ‘we are here to stay.” Interestingly, secularist youth felt that their designation came to them in the same involuntary, natural way. One Free Thinkers club member expressed how her journey into secularism began: “At a point I started questioning. Things went on and things made less and less sense in religion. Eventually atheism was something that happened.” Another participant spoke of how he came to embrace religion as he became more aware of societal ills: “I found little relevance to Jewish life until I tapped into the thick notion of social justice.” Many agreed, and another young woman saw a direct correlation between action and belief:
“I decided to start an internship at a faith-based organization that works with refugee claimants. You see in daily life, your fellow interns, who come from a Christian background, putting faith into action. That drew me to religion, social justice, seeing people from other traditions putting faith into action. It drives me.”
The discussion also touched upon practical questions, as contributors explained how their religious convictions informed their stances on modern political issues. One contributor expressed his frustration that public discourse was not a space in which he could use faith-based language to express his viewpoints. Another admitted that the restrictions in his religious text on issues of LGBT rights made him uneasy about committing to a prescribed ethical code. Others wondered how they could bring their own values into the public sphere and contribute meaningfully to discourse in a pluralist society.
It is heartening to see students engaging in reflective and critical discussion on questions of politics and theology. In an environment where Millennials are often characterized as engaging with society in a shallow, vapid way-- expressed only through 140-character tweets-- it is nice to see a group of thoughtful young people counter the stereotype. This generation is indeed exposed to a wider volume of information, at a much more rapid pace. Discussions such as this one, demonstrate the value of the 21st century’s increased access and greater openness—as young people demonstrate an impressive-- perhaps historically unprecedented--- level of tolerance and depth of insight.
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2016 Summer Conference
The Canada Project
Identity, Citizenship, and Nationhood in a Changing World
August 5-7, 2016
The YMCA Geneva Park Conference Centre, Orillia, ON