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U Impact Scholar touts religious diversity

As polarization increases across the United States and college campuses become flashpoints for the discord, University of Utah impact scholar Eboo Patel had a simple message during his recent visit to the U—diversity is holy.

“There is not one name to creation,” Patel said, in a quote in the Deseret News. “Creation is not a monoculture.”

The founder and president of the Chicago-based nonprofit Interfaith America began his multi-day visit on Jan. 28 as the keynote speaker at a Sunday evening fireside hosted by the Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA). The event was held at the Institute of Religion of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints adjacent to the U’s campus.

During Patel’s remarks, he referenced a recent address by LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson which urged members of the church to choose to be peacemakers. Patel quoted Nelson’s instruction to be good stewards of diversity by building bridges with all people.

“The call of your faith is the need of our moment,” Patel said.

Patel cautioned attendees against falling into the trap of “affective polarization,” which he said occurs when people hate others more than they love themselves. He noted that this can be seen in communities across our country right now—from heated discussions in school board meetings over curriculum to the permanent closure of a library over disagreements about who hosted readings.

“You cannot have a civic life in a diverse democracy if people with diverse identities can’t have conversations at school boards or libraries or city councils,” Patel told fireside attendees, the Deseret News reported. A diverse democracy must have enough unity to hold together divergent ideologies.

Patel continued his three-day visit with several events on the U’s campus, including a workshop with faculty and an interactive discussion with students.

During his conversation with students, Patel encouraged them to strive to be interfaith leaders. As campuses across the U.S. are experiencing an increase in demonstrations and rising tensions in the wake of the conflict between Israel and Hamas, Patel says interfaith leadership is no longer a thought experiment.

“There are groups of students that are no longer talking to one another and they are largely defined by their religious identity,” he said. “Could you be a person they go to to help facilitate a dialogue in that situation? What skills and knowledge would you need? How would you prepare for that?”

While on campus, Patel joined Mary Ann Villarreal, the U’s vice president for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, in her “Joy of Belonging” podcast. He repeated emphasized his call for communities to join in the work of finding common ground in the ways faith traditions align. Their full conversation will be available here on Mar. 18.

“Urging us all to come together in our shared humanity, based in our personal religious beliefs, should indicate to everyone that unity can happen if we are truly willing to find common ground and shun efforts to divide us,” Villarreal said. “Dr. Patel has given us the blueprint. Now it is up to us to build the bonds of unity to lead us forward on the path to interfaith cooperation and diverse democracy.”