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Interfaith trip to Turkey informs and inspires

By Daniel DeVries on April 10, 2013
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Interfaith trip

Students on a recent interfaith trip to Turkey listen to a lecture from Noor Khan, Colgate associate professor of history, with the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in the background.

Beyond ancient ruins, temples, mosques, and historic churches of Istanbul, participants in a recent interfaith trip to Turkey explored their own religious beliefs and perceptions. Only traditional Turkish cuisine was on the menu and trips to McDonalds were forbidden.

Led by Rabbi Dena Bodian, associate university chaplain and director of Jewish life, and Noor Khan, associate professor of history, the trip brought students from a wide spectrum of personal beliefs to immerse themselves in the culture and traditions of Turkey. The students chronicled their travels on the blog, Reflections from Turkey.

Students from many faiths: Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Catholic, Protestant, those that identify as spiritual but not religious, and atheist, traveled during spring break to spend a week visiting holy sites and experiencing Turkish culture.

Masum Wiese ‘14 described his first impression of entering the Sultan Ahmed Mosque as breathtaking. Commonly referred to as the Blue Mosque, the location is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful in the world.

“While I think every mosque, no matter how small, contains its own beauty, the beauty of this particular mosque left me at a loss of words,” Wiese said. “I headed toward the front and saw my fellow Muslim brothers beginning to pray, and suddenly this feeling, this sensation, of finding myself at home came upon me.”

It was moments like Wiese’s that made the journey so memorable, Bodian and Khan said, to see students delve into the history and locations important to their own religions, while also visiting sites so important to faiths different than their own.

At the Ephesus amphitheater, where St. Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthians, Ewa Protasiuk ‘15, sang Amazing Grace.

“We were watching kids get it,” Bodian said. “That they were in the places where the forebears of their religions stood… They got a very different sense of history than in the classroom. Being able to stand at those sites is a powerful thing. It was also powerful for our non-religious students, and to give them a sense of why people are drawn to religion.”

As an atheist, Colin Shipley ‘15, said the trip, sponsored by the Colgate Office of the Chaplains, was important to him on several levels.

“My knowledge of other faiths increased exponentially each day,” Shipley said. “From learning about Islam from Professor Khan and visiting the Hagia Sophia, to attending mass in the House of the Virgin Mary, the trip has successfully engaged me on several religious and spiritual fronts.”

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