Local academics, politicians, business and civic leaders, all say something similar: Houston is America’s most diverse urban area. But how well do we understand or engage these diverse communities? Diversity is neither good nor bad—it just “is,” especially in the Bayou City. It’s up to us to figure out how best to leverage our diverse communities; it’s up to us whether we’ll see people from different places and points of view as a reality to be embraced or avoided, whether it instills in us the desire to seek greater understanding or greater isolation.
I’ve been interested in religion as a practitioner since childhood, and academically since my first religion class 30 years ago. Since then, I’ve been on a path that has taken me through a career of leading faith communities and being an educator about religions. I’ve never wanted to foster some sort of religious “goo” of sameness; avoiding examining the different ways we believe or practice means we’ll look at religions in a superficial way, which is both boring and dangerous. Differences and similarities are both crucial in understanding religions. I also know that religions are more than just terms and concepts; they are comprised of people believing the terms and practicing the concepts. Being a child of two cultures and ethnicities means that, for me, this isn’t just an abstract exercise—they (and we!) are real people living real lives, living in community.
A funny story: when I proposed the title of this class, I didn’t make clear the punctuation. When I proposed what became “The World’s Next Door” I was really thinking about it in the plural: “The Worlds Next Door.” In the plural form, I was thinking about the different religious worlds that are our neighbors. But I love the unintentional yet serendipitous wordplay that has happened. Yes, there are many worlds all around us here in Houston, but I also think that “The World’s Next Door” as in “the world is next door,” stresses the urgency and immediacy of these worlds. We don’t have to go far to experience other people and other beliefs. They are right here as our neighbors, co-workers, friends, people who care for us, and we for them.
WIH is pleased to introduce Gregory Han, the Director of Interfaith Relations at Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston. His upcoming class The World’s Next Door: Religions in Houston begins Tuesday, September 10 at 10:00. The class will be an exploration of our fellow Houstonians’ many religious traditions—Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, and Buddhism—culminating with a site visit to a house of worship.