At the orientation for the Class of 2026 of the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar (GU-Q), all first-year students played a game called “Pluralism in Action.” We were presented with questions about the similarities and differences between our perceptions of politics, culture and religion, and afterwards, we were given one minute to reflect on our responses.
We then stood in one of four corners — representing “strongly agree,” “agree,” “disagree” and “strongly disagree” — of the library hall that most aligned with our thoughts. The following prompt struck me the most: “It makes sense for Georgetown University, a Catholic Jesuit university, to be established on a campus in Qatar, an Islamic country.”
After some reflection, I chose the “agree” corner because GU-Q offers many opportunities to build community bridges despite the differences between the prevailing religious identities of the two campuses. In other words, GU-Q identifies what we have in common.
Like the Potomac River flowing through the Arabian Desert, GU-Q is often seen as a contradictory entity. When people think of GU-Q, the stereotype tells them that it is a university campus located in a traditional Islamic country, which seems to isolate GU-Q from words such as freedom, interculturalism and pluralism. As a member of the GU-Q community, I would like to say that Georgetown’s inclusive Potomac River is not drying up in the Arabian Desert — its waters are getting richer.
GU-Q is much smaller than the main campus in Washington, D.C., with about 430 students from 65 countries. Fortunately, this small size gives students the opportunity to build closer connections within the community, especially through GU-Q-hosted Cultural Nights.
Although my friends and I have different religious beliefs, it is not a source of conflict, and we respect each other’s values and discuss our own cultural backgrounds in an active exchange. We have danced Palestinian national dances, tasted Lebanese desserts and appreciated the aesthetics of Qatar’s traditional costumes. I have also been given the opportunity to learn about my friends’ different religious traditions, helping me to better understand their lives and their experiences. All of these interactions have improved my understanding of the world.
In GU-Q academic courses, discussions on different views of religion are also frequent. For instance, in a seminar last semester, one of my professors asked us if we believed the Louvre Abu Dhabi, an art museum in the United Arab Emirates, a country with an Islamic tradition, should censor its nude artwork.
In addition to this, in the classes at GU-Q, we have had discussions about the attribution of cultural relics from the British Museum that were attained through colonial looting, the benefits of having a U.S.university campus in Qatar and GU-Q’s effects on the future of Qatari diplomacy. In this week’s student town hall, we also discussed the adjustment of class time during Ramadan, which is aimed at supporting and respecting the GU-Q Muslim community.
As an institution of higher education that attracts students from all over the world, GU-Q inherently brings together believers of different religions from different countries. In everyday chats over the lunch table, I’ve learned that my friends from different countries bring along various religious backgrounds: Islam, Christianity and Buddhism.
Georgetown’s Catholic Jesuit values are just as prominent on GU-Q’s campus as they are in Washington, D.C. I see the Jesuit value of cura personalis, which translates to “care for the whole person,” taped to the windows, hung on the walls, put in every first-year student’s commencement bag and affixed to the cupboard in my room.
The value that was essential in GU-Q’s establishment was interreligious understanding. Seeking understanding rather than conflict in interreligious relations is a Jesuit pursuit, but it also informs the practice of foreign service. GU-Q’s community today is the result of the joint efforts of all Hoyas, day in and day out, to further dialogue among all identities.
Despite being an amalgamation of various religions and cultures, GU-Q still has room for improvement. But as the “Desert Hoyas,” we need to maintain respect for each other’s identities and always strive to enhance interfaith and intercultural communication, which is our way of making Georgetown’s home in Qatar even better.
Lance Song is a first-year student in the School of Foreign Service in Qatar. The View from GU-Q is published every third Friday.
Leave a Reply