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Interfaith Panel Explores Religion, Faith, Spirituality 

The Loomis Chaffee community has students, faculty, and staff from all over the world who bring with them a range of religious traditions, faith, and spirituality. An Interfaith Panel discussion tapped into that diversity of backgrounds on Tuesday, February 6. 

Led by pastor Ryan Heckman, the school’s religious life coordinator, six faculty members with a diversity of faith and spiritual traditions participated in the panel discussion. The conversation revolved around questions developed by students in the Religious Diversity in America course taught by Katharine Conklin. About 30 students attended. The faculty members who participated on the panel included Adam Alsamadisi, Lori Caligiuri, Elliott Dial, David Edgar, Aidan Winn, and Ludmila Zamah. 

Ryan defined the event as “flexing a muscle we don’t flex a whole lot at Loomis or in our society writ large in the United States. We hear a lot about religion, and we have a lot of preconceived understanding of what religion and faith and spirituality are, but we don’t really get a bunch of people from various faiths into the same spot and have an open, trusting dialogue. ... So, it was wonderful to flex this muscle of let’s understand a little more about one another.” 

Ryan was hired in January 2023, and one of his goals was to bring these types of interfaith dialogues to the community. He worked on the event with the Norton Family Center for the Common Good and the Center for Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. 

One of the goals of the night was simply to illustrate the rich diversity on campus, Ryan said. He also hoped the event would enable students to feel more comfortable asking questions and being curious about religion, faith, and spirituality. 

“It is kind of our American culture, at least the one [where] I grew up in the Midwest. ... We always say don't talk about religion, politics, or money at the dinner table,” Ryan said. “So, we’re not comfortable asking people about their religion, faith, spirituality, even if they are gentle curiosities like, ‘Where does that come from?’ or ‘Why is that tradition so important to you, why do you enjoy it?’ These are important questions that, again, we don’t have a very refined muscle to ask.” 

He said he was pleased with the outcome of the night, which he described as “energized.” 

“The students were fully present the whole time. The night showed me there is a rich conversation we can start to foster between faculty and students, between students and other students, between faculty and other faculty,” he said. “There is this wonderful space that we can gently enter, because it’s hard to talk about religion, faith, and spirituality, but we got there, at least a little bit. There was energy for it, and that was exciting to see.” 

Ryan also thinks it’s important to see conversations like these. 

“We are in a world that is so filled with conflict now, and religion and faith and spirituality are things that can be used against people to stir up the pot and to try to make the world even more filled with conflict,” he said. “If we can build a muscle to have curiosity and build relationships around [dialogue], I think it will take the power away from those folks who want to use religion or faith against us. And it kind of gives us normal people the power again — because we are in relationship with people, and we can take a step across those lines of difference without fighting one another.” 


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