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Trust at the core of SLC Library's conference on religious pluralism

Published: Thursday, Sept. 8 2011 9:52 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — For Safi S. M. Safiullah, program coordinator at the Salt Lake City Public Library, this weekend's conference, "Cultural and Religious Pluralism Today: Building Civility & Unity," is all about trust.

"Even here in Utah, which is historically known as the center of the LDS faith, we are a multi-religious society," Safiullah said in anticipation of the upcoming conference. "We are all living side-by-side here, trying to create mutual understanding and respect for our differing beliefs, cultures and traditions. And that only happens when we learn to trust each other."

The conference, which began Thursday evening, with sessions continuing through Sunday afternoon, is focused on building trust through shared experience and communication.

"We see the library as a meeting place, where we can bring people together to talk about issues in the community," Safiullah said. "But in order for that to happen effectively, we had to first earn the trust of the various religious groups that were invited to participate. So really, this has been an exercise in trust right from the beginning."

That Safiullah and his colleagues have been successful in building trust is evident from the list of 20 sponsors, funding sources and community partners for the conference. The list includes:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake

Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple of Utah

Calvary Baptist Church

Utah Humanities Council

Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah

Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable

Interreligious Engagement Initiative at Utah Valley University

The Foundation for Religious Diplomacy

Office of Spiritual Life at Westminster College

"The timing of the conference around the 10th anniversary of 9/11 was helpful, I think," Safiullah said. "Everyone is thinking about ways to get along with each other, despite our differences."

Thursday's opening session was about "The Role of Youth in Building a Pluralistic Society." Speakers included students from different schools, faiths and ethnicities exploring how they can live together while maintaining their individual ethnic and religious identities, Safiullah said.

Other sessions will include:

A screening of "Out of Cordoba," a documentary about how Muslims, Christians and Jews live together in a pluralistic community in Spain. Filmmaker Jacob Bender will be on hand to discuss the film

A keynote address by Robert Hefner, professor of anthropology and director of the Institute on Culture, Religion and World Affairs at Boston University

Discussions on "The Role of Interfaith Leaders in Building Religious Pluralism and Ethical Unity" and "Pluralism and Civility: The Role of Religion in Building Ethical Unity," both featuring a number of different religious leaders

"Men are from Mecca and Women are from Medina," a presentation by Muslim standup comedian Baba Ali

And a presentation on "Strong People Don't Need Strong Leaders: Building Movements from the Bottom Up" by Charles M. Payne, a professor of social service administration at the University of Chicago

For more information on the conference, including specific times, dates and room locations, please go to www.slcpl.org/pluralism.

EMAIL: jwalker@desnews.com

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