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College of Arts & Sciences
Department of Religious Studies


Interfaith Panel Discussions

In January the department co-sponsored two interfaith panel discussions on the USC campus: the first on “How the Earth Speaks to Us” and the second on “Compassion in Our Many Faiths.”

The Department of Religious Studies, along with McKissick Museum and Interfaith Partners of South Carolina, co-sponsored a panel on “How the Earth Speaks to Us” January 22. The discussion, with representatives from five faith traditions, was held in the McKissick Museum Second Floor South Gallery in conjunction with an exhibit of material culture from Native American artists of the Southeast. The event was held from 6:30-8:00 p.m. with overflow attendance and a reception following.

Dr. Jonathan Leader, professor with USC and South Carolina State Archaeologist, represented Judaism. Dr. Will Goins represented Native American traditions. He brought together the stunning  McKissick display of Native American Artists of the Southeast in the South Gallery where the panel discussion was held. Holli Emore represented the Pagan traditions, and Dr. Amarjit Singh discussed the Sikh religion. Arunima Sinha, on the Board of the Hindu Temple and Cultural Center in Columbia, represented Hinduism. Carl Evans, former Professor and Chair with the Department of Religious Studies, served as moderator.

 Dr Goins and Dr. Evans put together a set of six questions to which each of the panelists responded. How does the earth speak to those who practice your religion; what have your people learned by listening or being attentive to the earth? What rituals or ceremonies in your tradition are based on natural phenomena such as water or light?  What rituals in your tradition use objects that are made with natural materials? The exhibit highlights the use of storytelling in various forms.  How does storytelling about the earth, its origins, life upon the earth, etc. contribute to your tradition’s spirituality? The exhibit features several musical instruments.  Does your tradition make special use of music and musical instruments? If so, what are the occasions when musical instruments are used? The beadwork in the exhibit is an exquisite art form.  Are certain art forms used in your tradition?  If so, give one or two examples and explain how they are used and what they symbolize or represent.  What natural materials are used to make these art forms? What does your tradition teach about humanity’s responsibility to take care of the earth? What practices do people in your tradition follow to fulfill this responsibility?

A second panel discussion was held the following week, January 29, in the Gressett Room in Harper College on the Horseshoe. The faiths represented in this panel were: the Baha’i faith with Ethel Crawford; Buddhism with Dr. Toma Kawaguchi; Christianity with Karen “Zarah” Starks; Islam with Chaudhry Sadiq; and Unitarian Universalism with John Halfacre. The topic of this discussion was “Compassion in Our Many Faiths” and was co-sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies, Interfaith Partners of South Carolina, and the Peace and Integration Council of North America.

The discussion was built around the Charter of Compassion which the panelists had read in advanced. Carl Evans quoted from that document to begin the discussion: “The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions….”  and then asked each of the panelists to speak briefly on a three questions dealing with the ideal of compassion, the practice of compassion and the restoring of compassion in the context of each of the traditions represented.

Carl elaborated the questions as he asked for their responses. In your faith, what is meant by “compassion”?  What is the basis for compassion (teachings or example of the founder; teachings of prophets or sages; teachings in sacred texts; etc.)?  Also, what are the characteristics of compassion? From your faith’s perspective, what are the challenges to living a compassionate life?  What is the most fundament reason that compassion is often lacking? Is it because of self-centeredness, greed, desire, idolatry, sin, suffering, pressure from the culture? or something else? From your faith’s perspective, what needs to be done to restore compassion to the center of life?