Religion in America: A Symposium

By: Jaden Cloobeck

Jade Cloobeck throwin up the TT sign!

TableTalk Penn and the Polybian Society–a philosophical discussion branch of the Penn Government and Politics Association (GPA)–joined forces to relax on the comfy living room couches and chairs of the Polybian House! TableTalk Penn and Polybian merged their formats for this event to cater to both clubs members and to experiment with different ways to start the conversation!

First, Polybian’s moderator, Luis Bravo (Penn C’19), led a large-group symposium, which was followed by small-group discussion led by TableTalk facilitators.

Following, Polybian moderator, Luis, hit his judicial gavel on a table as he gathered our

attention from boisterous side chatter to start our discussion. He began with a simple question: “What is your religious background?”

Everyone went around the room and promptly said how they individually identified.

We had a diverse range of religious backgrounds represented, ranging from different sects of Protestantism to Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, Muslim, Agnostic and Atheist.

Then, Luis posed the first foundational question of our discussion:

“How would you describe America’s relationship with religion and politics?”

We discussed how we could not paint religious and non-religious people in broad strokes. Everyone has different beliefs.

We then transitioned then moved to the importance in differentiating the definitions between law and morality. Furthermore, we focused on how these two concepts can sometimes collide on ethical issues that are hard to answer such as the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

The conversation was passionate and intellectual. Participants fervently raised their hands to give a full statement, or they gave a little pinch hand signal for a small comment they would like to add.

Students constantly responded to each others’ statements with agreement, disagreement, elaboration or clarification, which created a fluid flow of conversation that got people interested in the questions Luis asked. People all around the circle were raising their hands and responding as Luis picked who would speak next in the large group discussion.

We made connections to the Civil Rights Movement in how it blended religion with politics, like how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was both a religious and political advocate of civil rights.

After we finished our large-group discussion, we split up into three smaller groups for small group discussion, led by our very own TableTalk facilitators.

In my group, we talked about how our religious identities have impacted us in our lives and communities. One male student, originally from Pakistan, talked about his experience of how Pakistan’s government is rigidly integrated to its religious churches. He was motivated to give us a different experience from the constitutional separation of church and state structure that we have grown accustomed to in the United States.

It was a pleasure to see students so engaged in the small-group discussions. I would see people leaning in with interest to listen to whoever was speaking.

Seeing people laugh, smile and show inquisitive interest in others is truly a wonderful sign that our collaboration with the Polybian Society fulfilled TableTalk’s mission to bring people together who otherwise wouldn’t have met to talk about something meaningful.

At TableTalk Penn, we are looking forward to hosting future collaborations with the Polybian Society to continue our collective conversation! Who knows, maybe the 2020 Presidential Race will have something to do with our next combined collaboration!