*Tiffany Steinwert serves as the Dean of Hendricks Chapel
This trip has been an opportunity to engage religious pluralism in the world while building strategic relationships at home. Bringing ten diverse chaplains and staff half way around the globe to strengthen our work back at Syracuse University may, on the surface, seem like a contradiction. Why would we have to leave campus to better campus life? But the reality is that what we did over these ten days in Turkey could never have been done at SU or even in the United States.
International travel creates liminal space in which social norms, customs, and barriers are broken down and new relationships, traditions, and ways of being are constructed. Liminality crafts communitas, a sacred community bound by shared experience in which differences fall away and people unite in a deep sense of their shared humanity. InThe Ritual Process, Victor Turner notes that communitas can only be created when people distance themselves both from mundane structures of quotidian life and their own particular social identities. This is exactly what we sought to do in our journey to Turkey.
The constant dislocation of travel wears down the walls that divide us in our daily lives and allows us to see the world and each other in a new light. The hidden feelings we may have had, but never acknowledged, rise to the surface and we begin to question and search ourselves in profound ways. Confronting difference, particularly religious difference, encourages us to delve deep within to face our own assumptions, values, and beliefs. This type of communal, inter-religious travel experience asks us to acknowledge prejudices we never knew we had and to dismantle them in light of new discoveries.
This journey of the heart has not only given us an opportunity to reflect about who we are and want to be, but also has empowered us to deconstruct the walls that divide, crafting a new found community spirit we now carry back home. Exploring Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Pagan sites in the context of modern Turkey has opened all of us to the power of engaged dialogue and action among people of many faith and non-faith traditions. We leave not simply having journeyed to the depths of our own hearts, but having opened our hearts to others, forging connections as strong as the silken thread we watched being spun before our eyes in Cappadocia.
These ten days have changed us for the better and will transform our campus as we allow the lessons learned to inform and shape our engagement in the Division of Student Affairs. The challenge that lies before us is not to recreate this experience back home, but rather to allow the spirit of our journey to pervade all we do in our collective work with diverse students, staff, and faculty to create a better, more just campus and world.