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Thursday, September 16, 2021

Life + Arts

SermonSlam shakes up interfaith dialogue


Being true to themselves while expressing their beliefs courteously to members of another faith was the challenge six students faced at UH’s first SermonSlam Tuesday in the Student Center Legacy Lounge, part of A.D. Bruce Religion Center’s 50th anniversary celebration.

“One of the things that often happens with interfaith dialogue is that everyone is really courteous,” said Rabbi Kenny Weiss, professor of Jewish and religious studies and executive director of Houston Hillel.

“They don’t want to offend each other, and so what happens is you don’t really talk about anything of substance.”

Weiss said he was inspired by another event held Philadelphia.

“The whole Jewish Slam started (in) the Jewish community only about a year and a half ago, so it’s really new,” Weiss said. “I heard of this, and my first thought was, ‘This should be done in an interfaith context.’”

Three students were awarded the titles of Most Inspiring, Best Delivery and Best Overall Sermon, each receiving a $25 Amazon gift card. Political science senior Fizza Raza, winner of Best Delivery, said he was happy about the topic of discussion and that he had a soft spot for human rights and justice.

“I think students would enjoy a broad sense of what religion really is; it gets a bad representation,” Raza said.

“It’s not just one ideology, and this just shows that there are so many ideologies out there.”

Students hanging out in the lounge were surprised by the event, including psychology senior Romana Retiwala and her friend.

“We thought we would just listen up,” Retiwala said. “It was different, definitely fun to watch — it brought all these different communities together and gave us a chance to learn about each other and their religion.”

Civil engineering sophomore Idene Hadjizamani attended in support of one of the readers.

“I came here to support Frankie (winner of Most Inspiring Sermon), but I definitely think we should do this healthy competition more often,” Hadjizamani said.

Weiss said SermonSlam can be a great opportunity for students, whose opinions are forming and constantly changing, to satisfy the need to express their ideas, and get something in return.

“In universities, your professors ask for your academic thought, but not your original thought that expresses your feelings, and that’s why this is such a great thing,” Hadjizamani said.

“Not only for those who are participating, but also the audience who hear what people are thinking, and perhaps inspire them in some manner.”

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