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Better Together: Sana Alimohamed ’17 and Ela Hefler ’17

In high school, some of Sana Alimohamed's classmates were concerned for her salvation, and told her so.

"Sana," they said to their friend, who is of Shia Muslim background, "we like you. We don't want you to go to Hell!"

She came to Davidson instead, a Belk Scholar, and has put her open intellect and centered spirit to work as a co-leader of Davidson's student group Better Together.

Better Together brings students from all religions and philosophical traditions together to learn from each other through conversations, festivals, lectures and visits to houses of worship.

"For me, religion is one medium in which you can make sense of a world that is predominantly chaos," said Alimohamed '17.

Better Together co-leader Ela Hefler '17 agrees.

Alimohamed and Hefler
(l-r) Sana Alimohamed ’17 and Ela Hefler ’17

"The ecumenism of Davidson was a very accessible way for me to understand what faith can mean," Hefler, a McGaw Scholar originally from Toronto, recalled of her arrival at Davidson from Canada. There, she had attended United World Colleges Pearson College, a two-year, pre-university school in British Columbia with up to 200 students from more than 100 countries.

Because of the wide variety of particular religious traditions in such a group, Hefler recalls, there was often reluctance to discuss beliefs and spiritual practices too openly, for fear of giving offense.

Better Together addresses just that tendency, bringing clear intention to developing communication skills around religious discussion.

Better Together's signature event is Plates of Faith, a formal yet relaxed and safe event for conversation over a meal with fellow Davidson students, faculty and staff.

Participants agree to assume the best of intentions in others' contributions; by extension, any potential offense given or taken is assumed to spring from benign ignorance, lack of knowing.

Coming to terms with that lack of knowing is the work at hand.

"It's not about coming to agreement on exactly what is ‘the truth,'" said Hefler.

Rather, it's about direct experiences and the narratives they create.

"It's not about world peace," Hefler said. "It's about saying we're going to have these conversations even if we don't fix anything beyond better individual understanding. I think the act of struggling with that betters the world.

"Doing interfaith work not only creates spaces for a lot of students to ask questions and learn and know each other better," she said, "but it also calls on a set of skills that is more and more useful in the world today."

"We try," said Alimohamed, "to find common ground, but keep the mosaic rather than a melting pot."

Particularity in Pluralism

Honoring the mosaic of human spiritual experience at Davidson grows naturally out of the college's Christian heritage in the Reformed tradition, says College Chaplain Rob Spach '84.

He cites the college's statement of purpose often:

"The Christian tradition to which Davidson remains committed recognizes God as the source of all truth, and believes that Jesus Christ is the revelation of that God, a God bound by no church or creed. The loyalty of the college thus extends beyond the Christian community to the whole of humanity and necessarily includes openness to and respect for the world's various religious traditions. Davidson dedicates itself to the quest for truth and encourages teachers and students to explore the whole of reality, whether physical or spiritual, with unlimited employment of their intellectual powers. At Davidson, faith and reason work together in mutual respect and benefit toward growth in learning, understanding, and wisdom."

He sees it every day.

"The range of religious traditions and worldviews that our students bring to campus enriches the community and enhances their education, since the world in which they will lead and serve is pluralistic," said Spach. "Better Together is helping all of us go deeper into our own particularity as well as learning about the beliefs and practices of people we come to know as friends in the classroom, on stage, on the athletic field, and so on. Stereotypes get shattered, and our common humanity affirmed in ways that bless us and draw us toward being a blessing to others."

Such a living, breathing, growing relationship to the world depends, said Alimohamed, on continuous seeking.

"I am my own greatest puzzle, but the world itself is a ginormous puzzle," she said. "I don't consider myself religious, but I am a wanderer and a ponderer."

You can learn more about Religious & Spiritual Life at Davidson and read "The Oasis: Particularity of Time and Space" in the Davidson Journal.