Last week, a group of adult students and volunteer tutors at the Seward Park Library's Center for Reading and Writing, the library's free adult literacy program, gathered for an introduction to the Three Faiths: Judaism, Christianity, Islam exhibit at Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, and to gauge interest in a field trip.
"Who has been to the 42nd Street Library—the one with the lions?" asked Terry, the CRW Site Advisor. Of the group of 15, just two students and one tutor raised their hands. A young Chinese man said, "I went one time, but they wouldn't let me in! Very fancy! Women in long dresses! Rich people. I wasn't like that."
Terry surmised that it must have been a private nighttime event. When the student then said something about it costing money, the group chorused, "It's FREE!"
The Group Discusses Faith
"What is 'faith'?" Terry asked, writing it on the whiteboard.
"Like when you believe," one student contributed.
"It's religion." She added the words "belief" and "religion."
"The word faith can be religious, or it can mean a belief," she continued. "People said when Obama was elected, 'I have faith in him.' Another meaning is a religious meaning, a religious faith." She then wrote the names of the three faiths represented in the exhibit—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—and elicited from the students what a person is called who practices each of those religions.
"You can't be three faiths," said an elderly Haitian woman.
"Why Judaism?" a young Chinese man said, "This religion is very small number of people. Why not Buddhism?"
"These are the three largest religions in New York," said Terry, "But they're not the only religions, right? What other religions can you think of?"
"Buddhism!" the young Chinese man said immediately. Terry wrote it on the board.
"Some people are no religion," added another student.
"Right. That's called atheism. They could have many other beliefs, they just don't believe in religion. They don't believe in God."
"Catholicism," said the Haitian woman.
"Right, that's actually part of Christianity. A wing of Christianity," said Terry.
"Hinduism," said another student.
"New Age," added a tutor.
Next the students had a chance to look at the New York Public Library's Three Faiths website, see photos of some of the beautiful manuscripts and read the description: 200 rare works, some up to 1,500 years old.
Why is the Library Having an Exhibit About Faith?
"The Library is not a religious institution, it's a secular institution," said Terry. "Why would the library have a Three Faiths exhibit?"
For a moment there was silence, then a tutor raised her hand, "After 9/11 there was a lot of anger in New York. People getting mad at other people because of their religion. There was a lot of misunderstanding and some violence. Having this exhibit with the three religions is a way to foster peace and understanding." The whole group burst into applause.
"So, now that you've gotten an introduction, who here would be interested in visiting the library and seeing the exhibit?" Terry asked.
Slowly, nearly every hand in the room went up.
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The winter class cycle begins in January. Interested students and volunteer tutors can locate a Center here.