This year we celebrated Interfaith Week with a series of interactive virtual events bringing together students and staff from across King’s. The aim of Interfaith Week is for all our students & staff to feel safe and welcome on campus, regardless of their background. Religion and belief can be fundamental in shaping our identities and worldviews and promoting diversity and inclusion can start with understanding each other’s cultural and religious backgrounds.  The celebrations were curated by student interns Nakul Patwa & Maksim Vassin, who have written a blog reflecting on the highlights of the week.

King’s College is a unique educational institution that embraces the diversity of its student body and strives to be a place that welcomes everyone regardless of their background. Diversity does not only mean racial diversity or diversity of opinion but also religious diversity — giving  representatives of all religions an opportunity to practice and experience their faith.

For many of us, religion defines the way we view the world, it defines our values, traditions and cultural affiliation. Keeping that in mind we can safely say that understanding other people’s culture and worldview often starts with understanding their religion or lack thereof. To support the diverse and incredible student community, King’s, in cooperation with the Office for Students, launched Interfaith Week from May 17th to May 31st that celebrated diversity of our religious communities and promoted dialogue between them.

Interfaith Week was brought to our student community thanks to tireless efforts of the King’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Department, Chaplaincy, as well as two student interns: Nakul Patwa, final-year BSc International Management student and Maksim Vassin, first-year BA International Relations student.

Interfaith Week included four captivating and eye-opening events: COVID Heroes – Community Talk, Student Community Talk, Interfaith Quiz and Faith Crawl – A Talk with Faith Experts.

Recordings of all events are available here

COVID Heroes – Community Talk

The ongoing pandemic has greatly affected our way of living and how we interact within our own communities. For this Community Talk, we had an opportunity to hear from community volunteers and about how they stood up to the challenge, aided their local community and protected the vulnerable during these challenging times. We had an honour to welcome Karim Ali, King’s Pharmacology student, and Adam Hoosa, who are members of the Funnel Network. Funnel Network is a food security charity that was established during the COVID pandemic to help the local communities dealing with food insecurity.

The event was opened by Sarah Guerra, Director of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. The Community Talk set the theme for all following events — being a member of the community,  helping your loved ones in the time of need and standing up to the challenge. Social change and community engagement became the key words —  if we feel we are privileged, we must use this privilege to engage with the community and foster social change. It is essential to teach young people what it means to be a member of the community to ensure that community-focused mindset keeps living through generations.

Student Community Talk

For the Student Community Talk, we welcomed Gurbaaz Gill, ex-VP of KCLSU and Sikh Society Member, and Samyak Pandey, ex-KCL Hindu Society President and member of National Hindu Student Forum. This event was all about gaining a student perspective on religious dialogue at King’s. If we want to foster understanding within the student community, it is imperative to ask students what the ways of promoting it might be.

The event really helped us understand what faith means for students — something that makes us a part of the community, a spiritual connection with other people that helps us understand their suffering in the time of need. It beautifully contemplates everything said in the first event that set community engagement as one of the priorities, especially, during the COVID pandemic. It was a time when humans needed each other the most but we couldn’t physically be there for each other.

Samyak and Gurbaaz shared their vision of King’s as a religion-friendly university. Visibility and accessibility was the key —  King’s has an abundance of information yet many students simply do not know where to find it, especially those who just joined us here at King’s. Safe spaces should be established across all campuses and religious elements of societies should be kept separately to avoid a situation in which other students might accidentally damage religious attributes.

Interfaith Quiz

Interfaith Quiz was, perhaps, the most interactive event of the project. Staff and students alike had an opportunity to explore topics ranging from traditional foods to history and places of worship. The quiz was an essential part of learning about other faiths and understanding their traditions. Take a look at the questions below and test your knowledge of different religions!

  1. Muslim hajj and umrah both end in Mecca, at Kaaba. How many times should a person circle Kaaba, to complete the pilgrimage?
  2. This 180ft tall, 269ft long and 240ft building served as a place of worship for three different religions. It was converted into a museum in 1935, which was the most visited museum in the country in 2019, before being converted back into a place of worship last year. What building is that?
  3. A poll conducted by Harris in 2013 in the US and five largest European countries has crowned the top-3 of most popular world leaders, along with then-President Barack Obama and Pope Francis. The current holder of the title is 14th in order and he has held this title since 1940. What title?
  4. This Jewish holiday in English is called the Feast of Weeks. It is one of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, the other two being Passover and Sukkot. It is celebrated 50 days after the first day of Passover and it commemorates the giving of Torah to the people on Mount Sinai. This year, it was celebrated between May 16th and May 18th.

Answers at the bottom of the blog 

Faith Crawl – A Talk with Faith Experts

For the last event of Interfaith Week, we were honoured to welcome:

  • Helena Mattingley, the Head of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion for the opening address and the following speakers:
  • Harrie Cedar, KCL Jewish Chaplain;
  • Jim Craig, KCL Christian Chaplain;
  • Bhatsakorn Kota, KCL Buddhist Faith Expert;
  • Romana Kazmi, KCL Islamic Chaplain.

During the event we had an opportunity to explore the religious landscape of London and gain insight into perspectives of different religions. The question all speakers discussed was how the pandemic has affected their way of practising faith. The result was rather surprising — if earlier we discussed that in such difficult times we couldn’t be there for each other, faith experts mentioned that going digital helped reach more people. For many, the main obstacle is distance or time commitment — visiting the church, listening to the prayers and chants. Now, Zoom gave everyone an opportunity to join in without a camera and with a microphone off. It was especially beneficial for newcomers. Experiencing a new religion might feel intimidating and daunting. Without having to be physically present at a place of worship, it was possible to reach more audiences.

What speakers agreed on is that we are living through very difficult times, and faith and religion is there to guide us. It teaches us never to go into the area of despair, regardless of what happens. It teaches us that hope is not an emotion, it’s the way of thinking. It teaches us to feel peace.

What next?

 With Interfaith Week now finished, what should we make of it? Here is a list of ideas voiced during the week:

  1. King’s should be more encouraged and inclined to engage in tough conversations to ensure that all members of the community are truly welcome.
  2. Promote student initiatives launched outside of university, such as the Funnel Network. A platform for all student-driven charities and projects.
  3. Ensure information is easily accessible, especially for those who have just joined us here at King’s.
  4. Setting up a faith fair, where each religion/religious society has an opportunity to share their traditions and activities with the student community.

We can safely say that King’s College London’s first-ever Interfaith Week was a success. It provided us with valuable insight into what religion means for students — an opportunity to feel a part of the community, connect spiritually with others. It was the first Interfaith Week but it will certainly not be the last.

We would like to thank all our guests and speakers, as well as the Chaplaincy and the EDI Team for making this possible.

(Answers: 7; Hagia Sophia; Dalai Lama; Shavuot)