Interfaith leader Eboo Patel finds possibility amid uncertainty in new adaptation of Sharp Series

May 7, 2020

Spider Pride

When Eboo Patel planned his visit to the University of Richmond, he expected to discuss religious diversity and equity in America, as part of the Sharp Viewpoint Speakers Series with President Ronald A. Crutcher. Then, as with so many other plans, the COVID-19 crisis put that talk on hold. 

But instead of canceling the talk, President Crutcher, Patel, and University Chaplain Craig Kocher had a conversation to see whether there might be a chance to switch gears and try something new. They decided that Kocher would interview Patel in a Zoom webinar, discussing hope and possibility within the crisis. 

Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, a former member of President Barack Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council, and author of Out of Many Faiths. He was highlighted among a group of “remarkable people bridging America’s divides in trying times” by TIME magazine.

Recently, Kocher offered some of his insights on how Patel’s views provide some context to the current crisis and how to lean into hope and resilience. 

Why was Patel a good choice for this talk? 

He’s a world class mind — a Rhodes Scholar from Oxford. He started the Interfaith Youth Core almost 20 years ago, the leading organization of its kind, certainly in the United States, maybe in the world. And it’s trying to divulge an interfaith movement of young people.  

He thinks not just in societal terms, but in very personal terms. The talk allowed him to draw from his own life experience, and also the lives of others that he encounters in diverse parts of the religious world on a regular basis. 

What were some of the more surprising insights you took away from your chat? 

An image that was really helpful to me was the idea of wet cement. We have an opportunity to shape the future that we want, once we're on the far side of the pandemic.  

When you're in a time of isolation, it can strip away some of the noise in our lives. And it reminds us of what's really important. When we're not in proximity to one another, we're reminded all the more that relationships are important. And when we're aware of people sick and dying all around us, we're all the more aware of caring for one another through various forms of health care systems and personal attention –that it’s really important. When we know so many people who don't have jobs, we're reminded that employment and meaningful work is really important.  

So I think what Patel is trying to say is, that's the wet cement, and together we can begin saying, “Okay, when the cement hardens on the far side of this, what might our society look like for the better?” And I think that's a fundamental question that all of us need to be wrestling with.

What are some other lessons we’re learning about how to cope in a crisis? 

Patel met with my class earlier in the day, and there was an idea he really pushed toward them: Every one of us is capable of doing extraordinary things. And we don't know when we’ll be called upon to do them. But when that time comes to trust that we have the capacity inside of ourselves, we have the strength within us — whether that comes from faith or whether it comes from other means. I thought that was a really important lesson for all of us, but it’s one that the students took to heart.  

We also talked some about love as a guiding force in today's world. And there's a risk – whenever love gets talked about publicly — that it can feel sentimental, kind of wishy washy. And I appreciated where he talked about love as a guiding value, but in a non-sentimental way. That it gets lived in daily practices of caring for the people around us. Daily practices of being concerned for those who are sick. Daily practices that we see in essential workers who continue working: the person who delivers the mail, the person who's driving that Amazon box truck, all the way to the ER physician at the door when the ambulance arrives. These are in many ways not just sort of acts of service and doing one's job. They're actually acts of love, in a world that really needs love all the time, but especially now. 


The University of Richmond fosters important and challenging dialogues through the Sharp Viewpoint Speaker Series. 

Watch the webinar