Talking Religion series hopes to foster dialogue

By Jim DeLa

A new speaker series at New College starting Tuesday, Sept. 24, aims to broaden the understanding of religion and the large role it plays in the local community.

Manuel Lopez, an assistant professor of religion, and Nassima Neggaz, an assistant professor of religion and Islamic studies, have organized three events this semester as part of the Connecting Arts + Humanities series funded by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Lopez says the goal was to develop a program that would discuss issues of religion that would be significant at a local level. “It’s not just a historical discussion about Christianity or Islam, or about text or scriptures, but about how those religious traditions lift and impact the lives of people in the local community.”

The three-part series features speakers from the Tampa Bay area. “I think the most important thing is we’re really trying to not only reach out to the community but to be part of the community, to open the doors of New College,” Lopez explained. “They’re people from the community. We want to hear from the community.”

Making those connections is important, Neggaz added. “The idea is to connect them to the College in some ways, and to the study of religion that we are doing here,” which will complement the academic work done at New College. “Students often have questions that are a little more practical. They want to see how religion is lived, they want to meet people, they also want to meet different types of people,” she said. “So part of the series, is really about that — connecting students and people at NCF with those groups.”

The fall series includes a well-known Palestinian-American journalist and educator living in Tampa; a psychotherapist and meditation and mindfulness instructor from Sarasota; and a film screening hosted by New College’s chaplain, a Presbyterian minister.

These discussions are important, both professors say. “We feel very strongly that it is definitely important to be aware and to develop an understanding of other religious traditions. And we think that there is nothing more important than to start on the ground at the local level,” Lopez said.

“They are important because we have to correct a number of misunderstandings that not only students have, but the general public,” Neggaz said. “I think that right now is a very critical time to do it. A lot of students who take my class on the Quran are curious about violence because, of course, you watch the media and this is talked about a lot,” she observed. “There is an association, unfortunately, between Islam and violence. I think there is a lot of work to do.”

“It’s not an abstract thought about Muslims or Christians, but people you might know in your community, people you might bump into at Publix or at the beach,” Lopez said. “People should be able to relate to each other even if they don’t agree religiously with each other.”

It’s an opportunity, Neggaz said. “The way I see it is just giving a means for people who are curious to learn a little bit and to ask questions. That’s really the main goal for me, to make people just look for sources of information that are actually serious sources and not just rely on what is commonly heard in the media.”

The series will continue with more programs in the spring of 2020, Lopez said.

The fall lineup:

Samar Dahmash-Jarrah
Samar Dahmash-Jarrah

Talking Religion With Samar Dahmash-Jarrah
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 5-6:30 p.m. in Sainer Auditorium

Samar Jarrah will talk about Muslim Americans in the Trump era/her own experience as a Muslim, Arab/American after Sept. 11 among other topics.

Samar D. Jarrah is a Kuwait-born Palestinian-American speaker, journalist and educator. She has traveled extensively throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East and has lived in Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and America. Samar Dahmash-Jarrah’s professional accomplishments include being a contributor to CNN World Report; news editor and reporter for Jordan Television; editor and reporter for Jordan Weekly; and a Political Science instructor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. After the World Trade Center tragedy of September 11, 2001, Dahmash-Jarrah, an American citizen, was asked by many community organizations, churches, temples and peace groups to speak about the Arab world. These events and the Iraq War served as the inspiration for Arab Voices Speak to American Hearts, a first step in fostering direct dialogue between Americans and Arabs. Topics of past discussions involve international relations, media, Islam, and culture.

Dahmash-Jarrah holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science and a Bachelor of Arts in Middle East Studies. Samar authored two books in Arabic about her life in the U.S. as an American Arab Muslim Woman.

Lynne Lockie
Lynne Lockie

Talking Religion with Lynne Lockie
Monday, Oct 7, 5-6:30 p.m. in the College Hall Music Room

In this second segment of Religion in Sarasota, Lynn Lockie, mindfulness instructor at the Sarasota Mindfulness Institute and New College of Florida, will talk about bringing mindfulness to Sarasota.

Lynne Lockie has been an artist, writer, psychotherapist and a teacher of meditation and mindfulness practices. She has been practicing meditation and spiritual disciplines/ways of skillful living for over 55 years, starting with her teacher Shunryu Suzuki Roshi in 1959 in San Francisco. She received ordination as a lay practitioner from him in 1964, among the first ordained students of Zen Center. Since 2017, Lynne has also worked with New College to bring mindfulness practices to the campus. In this talk, Lynne will talk about her long experience practicing and teaching meditation, and the impact it can have on people and local communities.

Movie poster for Watching Religion: Faith, Ethics, and Community In The Film “First Reformed”
Thursday, Nov 7, 5-7:30 p.m. in Sainer Auditorium

Come watch Paul Schrader’s 2017 film “First Reformed,” which follows a Protestant minister (played by Ethan Hawke) faced with questions of faith and morality while serving as pastor of a dwindling historical church. The film was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay. After the film, the Rev. Melanie Kim, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church and chaplain at New College and former chaplain at Ringling College and USF-SM, will discuss some of the main themes of the movie, with a particular focus on the role, impact and struggles of a local pastor in a small community.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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