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Special Report - Arizona Daily Wildcat - Wednesday Jan. 30, 2002
Blurred Across Boundaries 'Jungle Fever': A look at race relations on the silver screen Keeping in the faith?
Keeping in the faith?
ERIC M. JUKELEVICS/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Vocal perfomance junior and chair of the freshman students of Hillel discussed her religiously specific dating preferences last week at the University of Arizona Hillel foundation.

By Rebecca Missel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Jan. 30, 2002

Interfaith dating can conflict with personal religious convictions

As society moves toward acceptance of couples whose skin colors do not match, the personal nature of religion prevents many students from interfaith dating.

Some worry about assimilation while others have concerns about what their parents or friends might think. Many do not want to get into a potentially serious relationship because of the greater pressures of an interfaith marriage. Yet whatever the reason, students across the University of Arizona campus make daily decisions about whom they date based on religion.

"I feel a better understanding with other Jews; there's another level to connect on," said Suzanne Lewinson, a vocal performance junior and chair of the Freshman Year Students of Hillel. "With my upbringing, I chose not to inter-date, because if it ever came to marriage, then there's never a conflict."

A student's pledge to date only within his or her religion could become more difficult as religious diversity grows in America. In 1990, the American Religious Identification Survey reported 527,000 Muslims living in the United States. In 2001, the survey estimated 1,104,000 Muslims, an increase of 109 percent. Likewise, the number of Hindus grew from 227,000 to 766,000, a rise of 237 percent.

Meanwhile, the number of Christians, including Protestants and Catholics, only increased 5 percent - from 151,225,000 to 159,030,000 adherents.

Complications with family members and different religious views of marriage can also affect students' interfaith relationships.

"I live in a dual society, and in the Afghan culture, everyone cares and talks about your relationship and marriage decisions," said Atal Wassimi, a physiological sciences junior. "I'm pretty strong in my identity as an Afghan and a Muslim, but because I live (in Tucson), it's harder to find women to date."

Differences in faith, however, are not always obstacles to potential relationships. For some, religion is simply not an issue.

"My parents wouldn't care, and I can't think of a single person who would ask about religion," said Katie Menssen, a child psychology junior who said she is not religious. "I never had pressure to marry someone specific."

ARIS- American Religious Identity Survey, conducted 2001
Religion 1990 Est. Pop 2001 Est. Pop. % of U.S. pop %chg.
Christian 151,225,000 159,030,000 76.5 +5
Judaism 3,137,000 2,8361,000 63 -10
Muslim 527,000 1,104,000 .5 +109
Buddhist 401,000 1,082,000 .5 +170
Hindu 227,000 766,000 .4 +237
-Source: U.S. Breau of the Encsus,
But religion extends beyond the church, mosque or synagogue. Holiday observances, dietary laws and prayer influence people's lives, and those religious cultures may hold different interpretations of dating as well.

"For Muslims, finding someone of the same faith to date is even harder because they don't usually date in the American sense," Wassimi said. "Most families don't want their children to start that type of dating because they see that it will weaken the faith since premarital sex is a violation."

Besides conflicts with friends and family, religious doctrines often speak strongly against relationships outside the faith.

"The New Testament says, 'do not be unequally yoked with non-believers,' and there are plenty of other ways to learn about faiths - dating isn't it," said Julie Evans, associate director of The Refuge Student Ministries, 901 N. Tyndall Ave.

As representatives of the Baptist faith on campus, Evans and other leaders take the dangers of interfaith dating seriously.

"If husband and wife are to become one as the Bible states, then there's a problem if they can't worship or minister together - that can't happen," she said.

Yet, for the Rev. Dan Hurlbert, pastor of the Methodist Campus Ministries, 715 N. Park Ave., interfaith dating can be a great way to "test the waters."

"We value diversity and pride ourselves on encouraging members to think for themselves," he said. "I tell my students, 'The differences we have between one another bother us more than they bother God.'"

However, some religious groups on campus focus more on counseling for interfaith couples and welcoming non-church members into its weekly services. At the Catholic Newman Center, 1615 E. Second St., Chaplain Intern Brother Tom Mar discusses the topic with students frequently.

"The subject has come up quite often of late, and in both cases of interracial and interfaith, the Church has no strong point of view," he said. "The Church is wise in not legislating with whom people fall in love."

Even for Hurlbert, when the relationship reaches the question of marriage, religion can prove extremely divisive.

"If someone has children, it can be confusing to the child, and we can't get caught up in this, 'we all believe the same thing,' deal because we don't," he said. "There are truths we share but don't express them in the same way."

With the boundaries between different faiths constantly blurring, some students find it challenging to date exclusively within the faith.

"People cannot control who they're attracted to," said Michael Neufeld, executive treasurer of the Hillel Foundation and a business sophomore. "If you truly, deeply love someone, then you will come to an understanding of what's truly important and you will compromise."

For students who have not picked a major, let alone a life partner, this compromise may seem a long way off. The decision becomes a question of priorities, and some have already set their parameters.

"It's not that important to me to date someone Jewish, but it is very important that my children be Jewish," said Neufeld, who is also co-chair of the Greek Jewish Council. "Who I place my affections toward and my personal dealings with God are two separate arenas."

Blurred Across Boundaries 'Jungle Fever': A look at race relations on the silver screen Keeping in the faith?


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