Conversation

One of my good friends and colleagues, Andrew Wilson, at Imperial College in London, has recently written a couple of blog entries I have found helpful to think about side by side.

His most recent post is an article he wrote for  ‘Kalyana Mitra’ – the newsletter of The Buddhist Chaplaincy Support Group – entitled, ‘Caring for others through Spiritual Friendship’.

In it he lays out four strands within Chaplaincy at Imperial:

In the Chaplaincy Multi-Faith Centre at Imperial we have four key areas to our work. The first is the multi-faith approach – using the Centre as a place where students of different faiths can practice their religion.
The second area is pastoral care. Sometimes this relates to a person’s religious life, but often it does not. The third area is interfaith – promoting better understanding and co-operation between people from different religious groups. The fourth area is offering opportunities to reflect on meanings and values arising from studies or work. For example, supporting medical ethics teaching, facilitating staff and students to share together their motivations and inspiration as civil engineers, or reflecting with animal care technicians about the stresses of their work in bio-medical research. In reality these four key areas all overlap!

He also delineates two kinds of chaplaincy at Imperial – that which is primarily focused on the nurture of particular religious groups and that which has a university-wide ambit that embraces all four of the key areas of work mentioned above. This latter chaplaincy may be funded by the University, whereas the former is dependent on voluntary participation by members of external religious communities – and included within the program of the Chaplaincy Centre.

At Oasis, we would probably say that the first kind of ‘chaplaincy’ might fall within the province of Student Clubs and Societies. Just like the Soccer Club might appoint an external coach, a religious club might appoint an external ‘coach’.

The second kind – wider ‘chaplaincy to the University’ – would be the province of the Oasis Team, supported by Oasis staff appointed by the University, with facilities provided by the University to support this wider mission of ‘inspiring hospitality and wellbeing’, a mission derived from the mission of the University and accepted by it. And, like at Imperial, Flinders religious clubs and societies may (or may not choose to) use Oasis facilities.

The second post is an article for the student newspaper, designed to communicate to students the nature and purpose of the Chaplaincy at Imperial. In it he identifies ‘conversation’ as its universal characteristic and suggests that while such conversations are open, the more obvious themes might be expected to focus on religious needs, inter-religious understanding, values and ethics within a context of mutual relationship.

By privileging Nouwen’s concept of hospitality, Oasis has created an ethical framework for ‘conversation’; and by privileging interfaith, Oasis has prioritised supporting relationships of respect and understanding between people of difference. At Oasis, the literature of ‘Interfaith Dialogue’ informs how ‘conversation’ may best occur (eg the widely accepted ‘Dialogue Decalogue’).

Commitment to the ethics of hospitality and principles of dialogue are essential to the effective functioning of an Oasis open for meaningful ‘conversation’.

The question arises as to how these ethics and principles are normalised, at least as an ethos within Oasis, when some religious clubs and societies, who access the facilties, may have other conflicting agendas?

I suspect there is no easy answer. Wherever we look internationally, there is no easy answer. The European Union, which has achieved unprecedented peace in Western Europe for the last 69 years, may provide clues, but it is struggling to hold. The Middle-East is a basket case, as is much of Africa. The United Nations does its best, but is often powerless. The question I started with, when I first stepped on to the Flinders campus seventeen years ago, remains – ‘how are we going to live together in this globalised world?’.

It will require ‘conversation’!

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