The USC Interfaith Council held its fifth Annual Student Multifaith Leadership Conference on Saturday at the University Religious Center. The student-led conference started at USC five years ago and has been hosted at other universities in Southern California, making its way back to USC this year.
At the day-long conference, students attended professional and student-led workshops, participated in a “speedfaithing” activity and listened to Antonia Blumberg, a USC alumna and Huffington Post writer, give a speech on her spiritual awakening.
The first set of workshops explored faith’s potential to promote unity between people of different races, religions and cultural backgrounds.
Cynthia Davis, a member of the Bahá’í community in Mountain View, California, spoke on the need for a new narrative regarding interfaith — a need to build a community where people from diverse heritages feel safe discussing their beliefs.
“When we talk about race and interfaith relations, there is a lot of injustice that has happened and stories that need to be heard,” Davis said.
Despite conflicts that have arisen between faiths, Davis believes religion is central to society.
“Religion has always been like glue in our communities and people have always been willing to sacrifice short term and selfish goals for the sake of their faith,” Davis said. “Our spiritual nature is where our generosity lives, our friendliness, our kindness, our forgiveness, and that’s something all major religions have taught.”
After the first set of workshops ended, students partook in a “speedfaithing” activity in which they were introduced to various religions, including Agnosticism, Bahaism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Mormonism.
Students then had the opportunity to attend either a workshop on meditation or on praying the rosary as practiced in the Roman Catholic tradition.
Elaine Krebs, an Interfaith Council Representative from the Caruso Catholic Center, discussed the importance of faith in an increasingly secular world.
“Faith is still important because it takes you out of your [physical] self and connects you to a higher power [that] has more direction,” Krebs said. “Also, different faiths and different religions form community, and community is central.”
After a lunch provided by the Interfaith Council, students attended a final set of workshops on promoting interfaith dialogue on their college campuses, finding meaning in life without religious traditions and reconciling differences in scientific and religious beliefs.
To conclude the conference, Blumberg spoke to students, faculty members and Interfaith Council coordinators about her spiritual journey.
At 20, Blumberg took her junior year off to travel to New Zealand as a member of the World Wide Opportunities on organic farms. In exchange for accommodation and food, Blumberg worked on the farms, selling fruit and experiencing the beauty of the New Zealand landscape.
After buying a bus ticket and traveling throughout the country, Blumberg developed a greater sense of self and began following an earth-based, pagan faith.
Coming back to USC to finish her bachelor’s degree in anthropology, Blumberg said she felt more self-assured and in touch with her spirituality.
“The relationship that you develop with yourself is the most raw and longest standing relationship you will ever have in life,” Blumberg said. “Interfaith is a way of life. It’s an attitude of questioning our own assumptions and habits, noticing the beauty in others and the beauty in ourselves. It’s a way of showing up to life with grace and humility and knowing that the journey begins within, but we can’t walk the path alone.”