By Kevin Kelley
Emilie Barnett spent a year as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jordan, returning to the United States in May 2001. During her time in the Middle Eastern country, she made several friends.
“Before that, I had never met a Muslim,” she said.
Four months after her return came the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks perpetrated by al-Qaida. Interest in, as well as some fear of, the religion of Islam ensued.
The Cleveland resident believed that fear and mistrust among religious groups could be overcome through dialog. Barnett obtained a master’s degree in religious studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2007. For the next two years, she studied the history of Islam at Aga Khan University’s Institute for the Study of Muslim Civilisations.
About five years ago, Barnett initiated a program, called Communities In Conversation, that holds group discussions about the Abrahamic faith traditions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The discussions, called “Communities in Conversations,” first took place at the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Later, the programs were offered at libraries in the Chicago, New Orleans and Cleveland areas.
A series of five such conversations will begin Wednesday (tonight) at 6:30 at the Fairview Park Branch Library, 21255 Lorain Road. The meetings will continue March 19 and 26 and April 2 and 9, also at 6:30 p.m.
Reserving space at a public library allows the conversations to take place in a neutral setting, Barnett explained.
Each session will be led by a facilitator who is not a clergyman. A study guide on the religions is provided to participants.
In addition to learning about each other’s beliefs, the discussion sessions allow participants the opportunity to establish friendships, Barnett said.
Barnett will be out of state and therefore unable to attend the first several sessions at the Fairview Park Branch Library, but hopes to be at some of the latter ones, she said.
Sessions are limited to 15 to 20 participants, Barnett said. To register for the upcoming series, call the Fairview Park Library at 440-333-4700. For more information about the organization, visit its website at www.communitiesinconversation.org.