Lisa Kemmerer, a philosophy and religions professor at Montana State University Billings, has been sending her students out to explore some of Billings' less-practiced religions for years, and now she wants to community to do the same.
"By the end of our class, they realize that this is part of our community," she said. "There's nothing to be afraid of."
With that in mind, she's organized a panel discussion, "Religion: Montana Minority Voices," featuring local practitioners of a half-dozen religions, from Paganism to Hinduism.
The panel is free and open to the public and will be Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at MSUB's Library 148 lecture hall.
Speakers and their religions include: Eryn Braida, Pagan; Jerry Clark, Baha'i; MSUB's Dean of Arts and Sciences, Tasneem Khaleel, Sunni Muslim; Thad Mauny, Tibetan Buddhist; George Reed, Crow Indian; and Sri Sampath, Jnana Hindu.
Kemmerer studied comparative religion at the Harvard divinity school and said she hopes the panel can open up dialogue and understanding between Billings' majority Christian community and other religions.
"There's a mutual strengthening when that happens," she said. "As a community, if we're going to be a community, we need to understand our neighbors. I want people to walk away having some sense of what it's like being a minority in our community."
The discussion will be made up of a pair of 90-minute sessions featuring set questions for the panel to discuss followed by audience questions.
Kemmerer said she didn't want it to be about a specific religion, but rather to put a face on various faiths within the community.
"There is no one speaking about a religion," she said. "They're all speaking with the view from inside the religion. We'll ask common questions, like, 'What are some of the things you do to worship?' and 'How does your religion describe creation and the afterlife.'"
For more information, email Kemmerer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 657-2936.