Committee preach-y keen

This fall, the AMS Social Issues Commission will introduce a religious issues committee. Safiah Chowdhury, ArtSci ’11 and committee chair, said she wants it to focus primarily on education and changing the idea that religion doesn’t have a place on university campuses. There are many students who consider religion an important aspect of their identities and it’s important to have a place for their issues on campus.

Queen’s hasn’t always done a good job of making students of different faiths feel welcome, and this committee could have a role in generating relevant discussion and clearing up misconceptions.

Chowdhury and her team need to be careful, however, about striking a balance between creating an atmosphere of acceptance and stifling critical discussion.

Religious issues can’t be viewed in the same way as gender, ethnic or queer issues. Whereas people have come to accept the legitimacy of the latter issues, there needs to be more room for criticism in religious issues because there are so many different beliefs.

The fact there’s a religious studies department shows discussion is important in an academic landscape, where opinions won’t be subject to personal attacks. It needs to remain acceptable to rationally argue against a religion and the committee’s role should be ensuring such comments remain respectful.

It’s easy for a committee whose main focus is the vague term “education” to step away from being a moderator and become pushy, and it shouldn’t be forcing religiosity.

It’s unclear as of yet if the committee will moderate conflicts between religious groups; how the committee responds could cause some religious groups to feel under or misrepresented.

The SIC office has yet to finalize its plans, even though hiring begins in the fall. A religious issues committee has a lot of potential, but it can just as easily lose itself in the never-neverland of bickering members, vague plans and fear of any controversy. It’s time the AMS stepped up and gave it tangible and achievable goals.

Let’s pray they can.

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