Inside USD

TBI Conference Offers Faith, Common Ground on Migration Issues

Monday, April 20, 2009

One after another, their voices were heard. They expressed themselves in different ways — scholarly research, personal observations, slide photos and even a YouTube video clip of the song “Born Again American” — but again and again the messages touched on desire for better understanding of the struggle migrants experience to be accepted in new communities, religion’s important role in that, and tolerance and acceptance.

The Migration, Religion and National Identity Conference: Exploring Faith and Belonging in the Migrant Experience took place on the University of San Diego campus April 15-17, hosted by USD’s Trans-Border Institute with support from the Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies.

“I think the major value of this conference is not just for TBI; it is for USD,” said David Shirk, director of TBI and a political science professor at USD. “As the only United States-based Catholic university on the (U.S.-Mexico) border, it’s a unique opportunity to reach out in an ecumenical way to other institutions working on migration issues.”

The conference featured an April 15 keynote speech from scholar, author and teacher Aristide Zolberg, a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States in 1948, and an April 16 luncheon address from Archbishop Rafael Romo Muñoz from the Diocese of Tijuana, Mexico.

Top scholars throughout the country — including several USD faculty and staff — spoke at a series of 90-minute panel discussions on April 16. They discussed: perspectives on global migration; migration, religion and national identity; religious perspectives and teachings on migration and national identity; and faith-based activism and migrant outreach.

The conference closed April 17 with an interfaith workshop and discussion group for panelists and faith-based outreach programs. The aim was to help participants find ways to “go beyond the conference to build bridges and coordinate their efforts to deal with the issues we’re talking about,” Shirk said.

One of the most visible signs of the conference’s ability to bring people together, Shirk said, occurred at the April 16 luncheon.

“What was very heartening was after the archbishop spoke, he was approached by one of the local imams. He basically offered his hand in collaboration and said if the archbishop needed anything from the San Diego Muslim community or wanted to connect and build bridges across the border in any way that he should contact him.”

A moment like that increases Shirk’s desire to find common ground and potential solutions among different religious organizations.

“People sometimes look at conferences and say it’s just a lot of talk,  it’s a waste of money,” he said. “But the reality is that this kind of conference creates a space for dialogue and building real personal ties and personal connections that transcend the (U.S.-Mexico) border, transcend religious denominations, disciplinary barriers between social scientists and theologians. It pushes us to interact with the world in a complex way, because the things we see in the world are actually quite complex and require very different vantage points and a lot of cooperation to address the problems we see.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

For more information about the Trans-Border Institute, click here.

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