The Dialogue Institute (DI) concluded its Winter 2016 Institute on Religious Pluralism on February 13, with a final session in Washington, D.C. Twenty students from the Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand) returned to their home countries following an intensive five-week program focused on religious pluralism and democracy in the United States—including four weeks in Philadelphia and a nine-day study tour in Arizona and Washington, D.C.
They join a group of more than 200 alumni who have participated in the DI's Institutes on Religious Pluralism for students from the Middle East and Southeast Asia since 2010.
"It is such a privilege to work with these courageous and intelligent young adult leaders," said Rebecca Mays, DI Executive Director and Institute Co-Director. "We look forward to supporting them as they apply what they've learned about dialogue and religious pluralism in their home contexts, and are proud to think that we have encouraged future ambassadors, prime ministers, school teachers, religious leaders and business people to carry respect for diverse religions and some better understanding of the United States."
As part of the program, participants go back to their home countries having developed individual action plans, plans which they commit to implement within the first six months of their return. One student, Rahman "Mimie" Norsyamimie, wasted no time.
Mimie arrived in Philadelphia with talent and an aspiration to promote peaceful interfaith dialogue in Malaysia. She is a founding member of Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU), a newly established Muslim community group with links to the American organization, Muslims for Progressive Values USA (MPVUSA). KMU advocates for liberal values and tolerance among the Malaysian Muslim community.
Her position as Media Marketer for KMU allows her to advocate for religious tolerance though it also puts her at some risk in her own Muslim community. In just over a week after returning to Malaysia, she helped organize an informal dialogue with a local Christian organization, the Kairos Dialogue Institute. She writes, "The discussion was great. We shared and listened to each other about the similarities, differences and challenges that we have in Malaysia, and I managed to apply Professor Swidler's first nine principles of dialogue. Then at the session's end, we achieved a great thing: to do site visits in each other's places of worship. The tenth principle I learned in the U.S. was to work to understand 'the other' from within and on the ground. Everyone was ready to try."
The DI’s Winter Institutes, run in collaboration with the International Center for Contemporary Education (ICCE), are part of the U.S. State Department's Study of the U.S. Institutes for Student Leaders and Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative (YSEALI) Academic Fellowship, which brings exceptional young leaders ages 18-25 to a U.S. university or college campus and includes an academic residency, leadership development training, an educational study tour, community service and collaboration with American peers. The YSEALI Academic Fellowship is President Obama’s signature initiative to strengthen leadership development across ASEAN countries, deepen engagement with young leaders on key regional and global challenges and strengthen people-to-people ties between the United States and Southeast Asia.
The DI/ICCE program introduces students to central elements of U.S. history, society, institutions and democracy through a focus on American religious freedom. It consists of a four-week residential component in Philadelphia, including various religious, historical and cultural site visits, as well as trips to New York City, Washington, D.C. and other parts of the country. Topics include: religious pluralism, the relationship between religion and state, freedom of religion, separation of powers/checks and balances, one person/one vote, rule of law, the nature of American citizenship, volunteerism in civil society, protection of minority rights (including LGBTQ and disabilities concerns), interfaith dialogue, critical thinking, nonviolent conflict-resolution, civil rights, ethnic diversity, women’s rights and immigration.
A Few YSEALI Highlights:
- Two YSEALI participants from Malaysia, Daniel Mahalingam Owen Devan and Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahaman, took initiative beyond the demands of the program to meet with fellow Malaysian students in the U.S. On January 30, Syed served as a panelist at the National Assembly of Malaysian Students in America TPAA Forum held at Drexel University, "The Malaysian Dilemma: A Blessing or a Curse?" And on February 3, he addressed Temple University students focused on combating youth apathy in Malaysia.
- Interview with two of our YSEALI students (Daniel Mahalingam Owen Devan, from Malaysia, and Maryam Hisham Casimiro, from the Philippines) on The Nick Taliaferro Show, WURD - 900 AM (February 3, 2016)
- Article in the Jewish Exponent (January 27, 2016)