Lessons on faith: Eboo Patel to speak as part of Presidential Forum on Diversity

Publication Date

Eboo Patel, one of the leading voices for cultivating greater understanding and acceptance of diverse faith backgrounds on college campuses, will speak Tuesday, April 24, at 5:30 p.m. in Memorial Chapel.


He will discuss “Acts of Faith: Interfaith Leadership in a Time of Global Religious Crisis.” The talk, part of the Presidential Forum on Diversity series, is free and open to the public. Seating is limited and priority will be given to members of the campus community.

An American Muslim who was raised in Chicago, Patel is founder and executive director of Interfaith Youth Core. He is also a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

He is the author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America, scheduled to be published this fall, which examines the anti-Islam fervor that surfaced after 9-11 and how we can best promote interfaith understanding and cooperation. He also wrote a memoir, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. He is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, USA Today and The Huffington Post, and holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

To read a 2011 profile of Patel in the New York Times, click here.

“Eboo’s visit is a wonderful opportunity to meet a nationally recognized leader passionate about interfaith cooperation,” said Viki Brooks, director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and campus Protestant minister. “Eboo’s commitment to serving the common good from both religious and non-religious perspectives encourages students to see their faith as a resource in cooperation rather than a source of conflict.”

While writing her doctoral dissertation, Brooks became familiar with Patel, who was an advisor to Obama for his inaugural speech.

“Think about the new ways Obama brought in faith traditions during that speech,” said Brooks. “It was inspiring to any of us who understand our faith as that which contributes positively to human relationships and good in the world.”

Patel’s visit is part of the College’s participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Last summer, Brooks and Gretchel Hathaway, senior director of Campus Diversity and Affirmative Action, traveled to Washington, D.C., where Union was among more than 200 schools selected to commit to a year of interfaith and community service programming. At the end of the academic year, the White House will recognize the best projects.

Union’s involvement focuses on economic need in Schenectady. Volunteers who commit to a work site such as a food pantry or homeless shelter meet with people with diverse backgrounds to explore the ways their religion or other ethical views inform their volunteer experiences.

While on campus, Patel will meet with students involved in the project. He will also meet with student leaders, attend a reception at the President’s House and dine with members of the Multifaith Forum.

The Presidential Forum on Diversity was established in 2006 by President Stephen C. Ainlay to bring in notable speakers on a wide range of topics that promote diversity and inclusiveness.

Previous speakers in the series have included poet Maya Angelou, journalist Soledad O'Brien, law professor Lani Guinier, Broadway star Anthony Rapp, actress Marlee Matlin and activist Morris Dees.