'Sacred Ground' Salon talks interfaith and importance of religious acceptance

The Benton Museum hosted a panel Friday March 3, in conjunction with the UConn Reads book, "Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America” by Eboo Patel. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

The Benton hosted a Salon on March 3 in conjunction with the UConn Reads book, “Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America” by Eboo Patel. The panel featured members of the UConn community who were involved in varying cultural and religious organizations on campus. Before the Salon began, attendees were directed to the Benton’s Central Gallery, where the walls were lined with art pieces related to Eboo Patel’s book.  

Panelists for the Salon included Angela Rola, the founding director of the Asian American Cultural Center at UConn, Clare Costley King’oo, an associate professor of English and Shaheer Hassan, an undergrad who is involved with the Muslim Student Association. Cathy Schlund-Vials, university professor and director of the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute, moderated the panel.

The first question asked by Schlund-Vials was regarding the role of religion both in the United States and in the lives of the panelists. The panelists came from a variety of religious backgrounds, but all three believed that faith and interfaith were extremely important, especially in building understanding and acceptance in our society.

Eighth semester accounting major Nicole Rodier said that she thought it was important that different religions were represented on the panel.

“I was really intrigued by the student on the panel, just because he goes to UConn and it was interesting to see someone’s real experiences who’s actually immersed in UConn,” Rodier said. “I didn’t realize there were so many sides to religion…it was interesting to see that through the point of view of different religions that were presented up there.”

The moderator then asked the panelists what they believed to be the misconceptions about their religions, and how we can go about building bridges here at UConn. The panelists discussed the importance of having open conversations in order to dispel misconceptions. Shaeer Hassan stated that a large percentage of Americans would never meet a Muslim person in their lives, and this has allowed for misconceptions to grow.

“Every time you see something good about our culture, you separate us from our religion… if someone does something wrong, people think it represents the entire religion,” Hassan said. “My religion doesn’t take anything away from me, it only empowers me.”

The floor was quickly opened up for questions from the audience. The first audience member to speak addressed the current political climate in the United States regarding religions like Islam, asking the panelists what they believed we should do as a country to decrease the current negative sentiment.

Costley King’oo was quick to point out the irony of the situation.

“From its origins as a modern state, the US has been home to those seeking safety from religious persecution,” King’oo said.

Hassan said he believed that he could use this spotlight to discuss his religion.

Additional questions asked by the panel covered the idea of the racial component tied to religion, and how that component affected how the community perceived those religions.

Sixth semester allied health science major, Jen Pires, said “I think their conversation about the racial aspect was very important because that’s something I feel like a lot of people don’t really think about, on how we always link religion to race when they are actually different things, so I just think everyone should become more aware of all the different aspects.”

The Sacred Ground exhibit will remain on display in the Benton through March 12.


Lauren Brown is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at lauren.brown@uconn.edu.