Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 02:48 am est

Omar’s Oration: Humanism, religion can coexist at NYU

Posted on April 22, 2014 | by Omar Etman

Chelsea Clinton announced her pregnancy last week, but the real news was made days later, when “Of Many,” a short documentary she produced, debuted. It was the materialization of the work she and others have done at the newly founded Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership at NYU, a program devoted to exposing students to cross-cultural experiences. The film highlights the unlikely friendship between two prominent religious figures on campus, Imam Khalid Latif and Rabbi Yehuda Sarna, lending a new perspective to a relationship between two faiths not traditionally recognized for their warmth. Clinton can extend her capital in many directions, and the successful completion of “Of Many” is evidence of her ability to leverage her influence for the betterment of NYU.

The relationship of the two friends is directed skillfully by Vice Chancellor for Global Programs and University Life Linda Mills. The director does not explicitly dissect the religious differences between the Muslim and Jewish characters in the movie, nor should she have. Instead, she captures moments of the groups interacting, unified in their catastrophe recovery efforts. For long moments during the film, it is easy to forget that the historical divide between the religions even plays a role in the movie’s development. Only when the camera passes a yarmulke is the viewer reminded that the now united group was originally formed from two.

The film energizes NYU’s connection to religion. As an intellectual hub in New York City, NYU has a tendency to be an intensely secular university, our pious president notwithstanding. The underlying theme of courses taught here is rooted in humanism, which is good for the improvement of the human condition but perhaps detrimental to the state of the human relationship. “Of Many” exemplifies the intersection of humanism and piety. The effect is quite moving.

Latif and Sarna co-teach a graduate course titled Multifaith Leadership in the 21st Century. Their syllabus is guided by the hands-on research their life experiences have provided. Their consummate friendship and its effect on the students that adhere to their teachings is not an unattainable archetype. “Of Many” captures an ideal achieved — and within our own community, nonetheless. It is heartwarming, and a justification of our choice in university, that such camaraderie is being fostered in a famously unfeeling city.

“Of Many” is a subtle reminder that NYU’s commitment to humanism does not have to come at the expense of religious thinking — the two systems of thought can and should coexist. In the effort to solidify NYU’s standing as a truly accepting, international university, the religious community must be further integrated with subgroups within itself and with the larger NYU population. NYU should capitalize on Clinton’s presence if it hopes to give weight to its message of global unity.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 22 print edition. Omar Etman is a deputy opinion editor. Omar’s Oration is published every Tuesday. Email him at

*Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Linda Mills as Laura Mills.

WSN regrets the error.  


profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.