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Credit: Mona Lee

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, an international religious leader, renowned speaker, and award-winning author, spoke at Perry World House on Tuesday about the future of religion and global politics.

Speaking to a room packed with students, faculty, and other members of the Penn community, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth stressed the importance of creating meaningful connections between different religious groups, even as each preserves its own identity.  

“Our common humanity takes precedence over our religious differences,” Sacks said. 

To create more meaningful interfaith dialogue, Sacks said religious groups should work “side by side” to solve shared problems rather than discussing issues “face to face.” He urged people of faith to come together to help persecuted groups throughout the world.

Sacks added that although religion has the potential to cause division between people, it should be a force for positive change. 

“Religious people have killed in the name of the God of life, waged war in the name of the God of peace, practiced cruelty in the name of the God of compassion, and hated in the name of the God of love,” he said at the event. 

Sacks also conversed with University Chaplain Chaz Howard and about the relationships Sacks has with religious leaders, including the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. 

Penn Hillel's senior Jewish educator Rabbi Joshua Bolton said that Sacks is “one of the great spiritual religious voices of our generation, and he has a remarkable breadth and has made a remarkable impact.” 

In April 2017, Sacks gave a TED Talk entitled "How we can face the future, together," in which he proposed solutions to dealing with religious intolerance. The video has surpassed 1.5 million views as of late December 2017.

Perry World House Director William Burke-White said that while it can be controversial to bring religious speakers to campus, Sacks was an ideal candidate because he is respected by members of many different faiths.

“At Perry World House, we are committed to not shying away from controversy,” Burke-White said.

He added that Perry World House tries to present a variety of perspectives, including religious ones, to “bring people together and get them talking.”

Students received Sacks’ speech eagerly.

“I think one of the most impactful things that he had said today is how the covenant with Noah was made before the covenant with Abraham, meaning before you love your community, you have to learn to love the other,” College junior Victoria Kalbacher said. 

Kalbacher added that she is an avid fan of Sacks and decided to miss class to attend the lecture.

Engineering sophomore Melanie Hillman said Sacks introduced her to a new way of thought about which she is interested in learning more in order to see whether it aligns with her own views. 

“He does have this perspective that I was not necessarily aware of, but now I’m more aware of it and I’m more likely to want to learn more about peace and religion and his point of view,” she said. 

Sacks suggested three ways students could foster meaningful interfaith interactions on campus.

“Number one: doing social action together," Sacks said. “Number two: celebrating together. Food and music are two of the most powerful bonding agents. Number three: whenever a particular faith group suffers a mishap or bad news, being there to give emotional support.” 

The event was co-sponsored by Hillel, Perry World House, and student groups including the Spiritual and Religious Life Center (SPARC), Programs for Religion, Interfaith & Spirituality Matters (PRISM), and many others.