Faith through diversity: Inaugural Inter-Religious Week a huge success

Posted on December 05, 2023

The week of 6 to 9 November 2023 saw the Oxford (UP) Centre for Religion, Public Life, and Security in Africa (Oxford Centre) launch the very first Inter-Religious Week (IRW) on the Hatfield Campus of the University of Pretoria.

The theme of the week was ‘Unity through diversity’ and celebrated our diverse and unique religious traditions and cultures. The aim of the week, and an important part of the Oxford Centre’s vision and mission, was interreligious dialogue as a means to promote social cohesion. Through a variety of events, students, staff, and stakeholders were invited to join in discourse and critical engagement around their own religious practices and traditions as well as be exposed to and engage with religions other than their own.


The week comprised of four events held in and around the Faculty of Theology and Religion. The Monday saw the IRW team paint the graffiti wall opposite the Hatfield Campus library and invite students passing to paint their hands and leave their handprints on the wall in solidarity with interreligious dialogue and our theme of ‘faith through diversity’. The wall was painted with the program that would follow for the week with additional flyers being handed out with the week’s program printed on.

The Tuesday saw a guest lecture by Prof. Sophia Pandya, a scholar from the University of California. Her lecture about the importance of women in interreligious dialogue was both timely and critically important. Prof. Pandya outlined the struggles most women in religious communities face, but also celebrated and acknowledged their triumphs over adversity and the undeniable impact women have on their religious communities, especially in their ability to engage in interreligious dialogue. Through her own research and case studies, Prof. Pandya painted a picture of hard-fought hope. The lecture was attended by a diverse crowd, including our honoured guests from the Turquoise Harmony Institute (THI). A memorandum of understanding was signed between the THI and the Faculty of Theology and Religion formalizing and solidifying the partnership focussed on creating a peaceful South Africa where human dignity and discourse is pursued instead of animosity and fear.


On Wednesday a creative discussion was hosted by the Javett Art Centre with the topic of ‘Art as a tool for interreligious dialogue’. The morning saw lecturers from the University of Pretoria, along with PhD students and researchers from other Universities attend and present at the event. Different perspectives on art and faith was presented including the importance of art in religious experience, interpreting the art of the South African first peoples, and a Hindu perspective on art. The MDiv class also addressed the guests with their own reflection on art, religious tradition, and the importance of building a united South Africa. Afterwards, there was time for reflection and snacks with attendants writing their own reflections and pasting it on the wall of the gallery, creating their own art through engagement and discourse.

The week ended off on the Thursday with a Living Museum space. Taking place in front of the Theology and Religion building, this event saw representatives from different religions (Hindu, African Traditional Religions, Catholic, Jewish) occupy a station and engage with anyone passing about their faith and religious traditions. This event created space for people from many different cultures, backgrounds, faiths, and traditions to engage and learn about different faiths in an open and organic way. The day facilitated relationships and friendships, but also broke down stereotypes and misconceptions, focussing on our similarities and what makes us human. It was a fitting end to the week and in perfect keeping with the theme of ‘faith through diversity’.


The week was an amazing success and the IRW team (Charel du Toit, Iwana Hartmann, Xongi Masiya, Stefni Jacobs) would like to thank everyone who was involved and contributed especially House Theology and the students and staff of our faculty. We are also grateful for guests who attended from the University of California, the University of the Free State, UNISA, the Catholic Bishop’s Conference, and the Turquoise Harmony Institute. The week would not have been such a success without these guests and partners and the excellent example they set in how interreligious dialogue can be a healing, cooperative, and safe way to create spaces of social change, acceptance, and growth.

The Oxford (UP) Centre for Religion, Public Life, and Security in Africa is already working hard on 2024’s Inter-Religious Week. The IRW will span over two national Universities next year and we are excited for how this movement is growing. Stay tuned to the Faculty of Theology and Religion’s social media pages for all the newest and exciting events, including 2024’s Inter-Religious Week. For any information about the Oxford Centre or the Inter-Religious Week please feel free to contact the Oxford Centre’s project manager, Charel du Toit, at [email protected].

- Author Charel du Toit

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