Dr. Robert Hunt’s office in Selecman Hall is clearly that of a traveler and xenophile.
The walls are lined with imagery from several religions, including Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism. An extensive library of text takes up an entire wall and photos of Hunt’s friends, family and inspirational figures in black and white are scattered throughout the office.
Hunt, Director of Global Theological Education at Perkins, taught in Malaysia, Singapore, and Austria before coming to SMU in 2004. He is interested in crossing cultural boundaries and wants to help students do the same.
“The Parliament of World Religions is a great place for Perkins students to find interfaith understanding,” Hunt said.
Hunt and professor of world religions Ruben Habito are leading a group of Perkins graduate students to the parliament, which takes place in Salt Lake City this week.
The parliament is held every five years and is the largest interfaith event in the world, say organizers. This year about 10,000 people hailing from more than 80 different countries will travel to Utah to join the interfaith dialogue. Speakers expected at the event include renowned conservationist Jane Goodall, former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias, spiritual leader of all three branches of the Sioux tribe Chief Arvol Lookinghorse.
Emily Robnett, a Community Life Graduate Assistant at Perkins, believes that interfaith dialogue is more important than ever in an increasingly interconnected world.
“As a future elder in the United Methodist Church, learning how to interact with and relate to people of different faiths will be vital to my ministry and for the common good of the world,” said Robnett.
She plans to attend the event to expand her understanding of other religions and is particularly interested in attending sessions that focus on women in leadership.
Imam Mujahid, who is an Imam in the Chicago Muslim community, chairman of the parliament’s board of trustees and the first Muslim to be elected to the position, wants attendees to see beyond the headlines detailing religious conflicts.
“When people come here, they will see the love, relationship and respect of religions,” Mujahid told Salt Lake City’s Deseret News on Oct. 2.
Hunt believes that the parliament is an excellent place for Perkins students to be immersed in multiple religious traditions.
“It’s an immersion in multiculturalism, in a sense,” he said.
Habito believes it is important for Perkins students preparing for Christian ministry to include people from other religions in their field of service.
“The parliament is a great opportunity to meet people who are active in seeking to transform the world for its healing motivated by their own different religious convictions,” he said.
Habito hopes that students attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions will develop friendships with those of different faiths and form allies in their own paths of ministry.
Though Perkins School of Theology is Christian-centric (its mission is to prepare women and men for Christian ministry), Robnett said that the Perkins community is one of the most open and inviting places of which she has ever been a part. Most classes are focused on Christian teachings, but most degree plans require a class on world religions.
“Many students are passionate about social justice and ‘reaching across the aisle’ to join hands with our brothers and sisters of all faiths,” Robnett said. “We are all eager to learn and bring healing to the world.”
Habito believes that interfaith relations is the task of our times. He hopes attending the Parliament of the World’s Religions will bring students a step closer in aiding the cause.
“We have to learn to communicate with each other in our crumbling world,” he said.