2019 Peace Speaker Eboo Patel Talks about Interfaith Cooperation

“Religion Is so Overlooked as a Conversation"

Imagine that you’re a doctor, Eboo Patel told assembled students, faculty, and community members at meetings throughout April 8 and 9. Is it necessary to your ability to do your job to understand how a patient’s religious beliefs intersect with—and influence—their treatment plan?

Eboo, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core, which aims to promote interfaith cooperation, spoke to faculty and staff, a small group of student leaders, and at an assembly open to the community on Monday, April 8 before spending Tuesday in longer sessions at each division. Head of School Bryan Garman hosted a conversation with Eboo during the evening on April 8.

Eboo’s message is simple: Religion is an overlooked but foundational element of American society and understanding the ways it has and continues to shape not only civic life but also individual lives is necessary to being a competent professional. In other words, “You oughta know how they roll,” when you work with diverse populations, he told students.

Referencing Anne Fadiman’s book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Eboo recounted the story of a Hmong girl who was brought into the emergency room during what was later diagnosed as an epileptic seizure. The story brings to light how practices in contemporary medicine can clash with spiritual beliefs from different religions and cultures—in this story, uncontrollable shaking is seen as a holy sign of shamanistic life—and where interfaith understanding would guide better empathy in decision-making. 

He shared with teachers a story of another teacher asking a Muslim student to remove her head covering when the other students taunted her for not removing her hoodie. “You don’t want to be the person who can’t tell the difference between a hijab and a hoodie” or who creates the future teachers who can’t, he said.

But how do you teach that information? Eboo offered advice to students and parents. Too often, he said, smart people are taught to criticize. Instead, “find things you think are beautiful and ask yourself where they come from.” As an example, he cited hip hop music, which can be traced back the the Muslim call to prayer through enslaved persons brought to the United States from West African nations. 

When one student asked if that pedagogy was more effective than critical analysis, Eboo responded, “I don’t know if it’s more effective. I think it’s a better way to live.”

For the full length assembly, please see the video below.  

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