Chaplain K on Fostering Appreciation of Diversity in Faith

Chaplain K on Fostering Appreciation of Diversity in Faith

With the observance of Diwali next week we took the opportunity to query Rev. Katie O'Dunne (better known as Woodward's Chaplain K) about the importance of appreciating diversity in faith and how to foster that appreciation in students...and adults.


Do you feel like the U.S. is becoming more or less tolerant of religious differences?

Both! That might seem like a strange answer, but I feel like there are two answers to this question. On one hand, so many individuals throughout the country are eager to learn about the beautiful things that make each of us diverse and special.

However, at the same time, as we talk more about the beauty of different traditions, there are others who continue to grow nervous, simply due to a lack of understanding. In hearing about the beliefs of others so much, there are some individuals who become less tolerant, simply because they are afraid of moving in a new direction; new can feel scary! As a student at Woodward North shared with me last week when discussing religious inclusion, “individuals are often afraid of what they don’t understand.” And yet, I believe there is so much reason to hope that we may help everyone, of all traditions, appreciate the beautifully diverse beliefs of those around them.

What is the most effective way to introduce children to faiths other than their own?

Experience and discussion! I love the opportunity at Woodward to read books about interfaith friendships to our youngest students, host interfaith clubs in the middle school, and even take our Upper School students on interfaith immersion trips. The more opportunities students have to engage with individuals from other traditions, the more difference becomes less scary and more exciting!

In many classes I visit, students are eager to learn why a classmate observes Rosh Hashanah, Ramadan, Diwali, Easter, and beyond. We are in a unique position at Woodward to foster these relationships within our diverse community by encouraging our students to form relationships and ask questions, while always remaining open and curious!
Which is more important in terms of those introductions: highlighting commonalities between religions, or teaching and celebrating the unique nature of each faith tradition?

Once again - both! I believe it is so important to highlight the ties that unite each of us. And yet, it is equally important to showcase the beautiful things that make each tradition special. I always tell the students in my Comparative Religions classes that it is just as important to highlight commonalities as it is to celebrate beautiful, unique aspects of traditions. We are all united by common humanity, and yet it is the different ways we worship, express ourselves, and engage in the world that weaves such a beautiful fabric!
What are some ways in which kids (and adults) can learn to respect and honor one another’s beliefs and traditions, even if we do not share them?

I believe it all comes back to empathy and the concept of seeking to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes.” I constantly tell my students in the Comparative Religions classes, as well as in my class visits with younger students, that we do not have to share beliefs or perspectives to offer respect. Rather, I can acknowledge that “your beliefs are just as important to you as my beliefs are to me.” This common humanity unites us despite apparent differences.
What role can schools and their staff play in fostering religious and cultural tolerance among students and families?

As my students consistently hear me say, “tolerance” is one of my least favorite words. I certainly do not want anyone to simply tolerate me, and I believe many of our students feel the same way. Rather, our amazing educators at Woodward can encourage students to truly get to know their classmates. They can encourage respectful dialogue around different beliefs, times for students to share their special religious observances, and always time to ask questions. They can remind students that differences aren't scary--differences are beautiful! Through these important conversations, we can move beyond tolerance to deep love, respect, appreciation, and affirmation for those around us.

As for myself, one of my favorite roles as the chaplain is the chance to visit classes or to work with individual families on religious inclusion. I am always happy to meet with you as you seek to live into your own beautiful faith tradition or as you seek to develop a deeper appreciation for those around you! We are in this together!