Dr. Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), spoke virtually to the St. Olaf community at three events on Oct. 29. Patel is a leader in interfaith work, which seeks to bring people of different religious traditions together for a common good.
The St. Olaf Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community organized the series of events, which featured a conversation with students, faculty, staff and administrators, a lecture on Patel’s book “Acts of Faith” and a keynote address.
Deanna Thompson ’89, the director of the Lutheran Center, spoke to the importance of Patel’s visit to campus. She explained that religion is overlooked by others in conversations about inclusivity. It’s “often pretty thoroughly neglected,” Thompson said. Patel’s mission, and part of the Lutheran Center’s, is to increase interreligious dialogue.
Thompson also highlighted Patel’s commitment to building bridges. “We don’t hear from many people these days who say ‘I’m a builder, I want to build a new world,’” Thompson said.
Patel’s keynote, titled “Racial Justice, Interfaith Cooperation and the Common Good on Campus and Beyond,” focused on protests and social justice movements around the world in which he found evidence of interfaith work.
Patel connected interfaith cooperation to racial justice movements in the United States, focusing on how religious organizations build communities that do activist work.
“It is because religious communities build institutions … that we have found ways to make massive contributions to American life,” Patel said.
He discussed the underappreciated role of religion in the work of Black activists such as Ella Baker, Diane Nash and Fannie Lou Hamer.
Patel then talked about the importance of interfaith work in current antiracist activism. “If you do the work of cross-community solidarity, you are going to encounter religious communities,” Patel said.
At the end of the lecture, Patel discussed the important role that colleges and universities hold in teaching young people about different religious traditions.
The keynote concluded with a Q&A session with students and alumni. Patel invited students to imagine their ideal vision of an equitable St. Olaf in 2070 and to think about what would need to change in order to achieve that vision.
Patel asked students, “What are you doing now that sets the wheel in motion?”