Shifting Secular Spectrums – A Conversation and Panel with Matthew Potter

By Kalilah Jamall, Student Coordinator

Coffee and Conversations are one of the most valued events around the Interfaith Center. They are easily accessible, personal, and super interesting to participate in. You learn a lot about yourself and others by hearing about different perspectives of belief systems, and how they influence the people around us. Coffee and Conversation speakers have been religious leaders, faculty, and even prominent keynote lecturers. But this conversation was led by Matthew Potter. Matt is a friend of mine and a fellow secular believer. We’ve never talked at length about his belief, so I was excited to hear him tell his story. I wanted to see how his secular views matched my own. That’s the great thing about Coffee and Conversations – for an hour, students come together and talk about their beliefs, and how they matter. I knew Matthew would be a great addition to the Coffee and Conversation history.

Following Matt’s Coffee and Conversation was a panel discussion on what Interfaith work is, and how people of different worldviews (religious and non-religious beliefs) come together to participate in this movement. I attended his event, then spoke on the panel. Matt taught me so much about my own beliefs, despite his situation baring no major similarities to my own. He identifies as a Secular Humanist,   and talked about what it was like growing up and questioning his family’s religious background. He seemed so relax about his identity, when I am constantly fighting with mine. There was a point in the conversation where he talked about different secular identities and how he felt connected to all of them – the Humanist part of him makes him identify with many different belief systems and allows him fluidity of belief. This was a powerful statement for me; I’m someone who spent years thinking of identities as ascribed parts of one’s self that become fixed.  For Matt to declare that his secular views allow him to move along a spectrum is something I never considered in my own secular belief system. In fact, it’s the part of my Agnosticism that “might” be spiritual that gives me the fluidity that Matt spoke of.

The panel afterwards was just as enlightening. This was an opportunity for Matt, myself, and my co-workers to build off the themes in Matt’s Coffee and Conversations. We were asked engaging questions about diverse communities, including: how do you find the “common goods” that unite you guys in your quest towards pluralism? What has the Interfaith Center done to enrich your undergraduate experience? How does civil discourse transfer over into your professional lives? What started as an event where a student voiced their story ended in a change in my secular perspective. I am always developing new ways to define my beliefs as an Agnostic, and this event, like many Coffee and Conversations, helps me navigate through this journey.

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