Islamic and Friendship Studies at Oberlin College

RP #2: Knowing yourself through your friends

Megan Cox

RELG 274


2 March 2018


RP #2

What elements in ethics of friendship in the Iranian, Christian, Islamic and Secular traditions may establish a linchpin between them? In other words What are the common conceptual grounds of friendship in the above perspectives?


A connecting point between the Iranian, Christian, and Islamic traditions comes from a fairly obvious place: they are all connected in Abrahamic traditions. Going even beyond the religious- and culture-based concept of friendship comes friendship from secular traditions. One “linchpin” that connects the four traditions (Iranian, Christian, Islamic, and Secular), as Miskawayh would argue, is virtue. Drama (as we discussed this week) occurs when there is a struggle between two virtues. Two virtues that work in harmony with each other between the four traditions we have covered are togetherness and happiness. Both togetherness and happiness are rooted in a basic human need: socialness and belonging. As Miskawayh argues, religious rituals are not about personal purification, they are about congregating together to increase human connection in the pursuit of divine knowledge and relationships. Salvation, as you said, is not a solo venture. In a secular setting, the same still holds true: we build our entire society and social circles around the idea of being together with others. Our roads connect all our houses to each other, our cities are built around central plazas and community buildings, we protect land for community enjoyment, we create our own social groups around hobbies and joint interests, and our colleges pull individuals to the pursuit of knowledge within a larger group setting (such as classrooms, conferences, dance halls, libraries, playing fields, etc.). I resonate with this concept of togetherness as a bridge between the four traditions. I have found this concept — a friendship based in virtue — to occur in my own life as I build friendships with those whose religious/cultural traditions are different from my own.

In addition to the virtue of togetherness, the virtue of happiness completes the hermeneutical circle that bridges the four traditions we have covered. Miskawayh contends that happiness can only be reached through the cultivation of friendship (a virtue inherently based on togetherness). There is this kind of “due process” in achieving happiness, firstly achieving a lower level of happiness based in social, political, and economic spheres. The other parts inherent to the progression of “due process” may happen through ritual (particularly religious ritual), which brings us closer to human contact and togetherness. Far from achieving personal purification, the goal of ritual is to encounter closeness to the divine through closeness to others. This, Miskawayh contends, cannot be “short-cutted.” To know your god is to know yourself, and in order to know your god you must be with friends — so, can we truly know ourselves without going through the practice (and sometimes pain) of friendship? I experienced this conundrum first-hand recently during a tension (or a “drama,” if you will) between myself and my housemates. The tension came from surface-level irritations, but was rooted in much deeper personal dynamics. Through the process of overcoming this tension with my housemates (who are also my friends), I had to endure frustration, anger, resentment, and argument, which turned to self-reflection, dialogue, openness, trust, compromise, respect, and ultimately reconciliation. I identify with our discussion this week on the virtues of togetherness and happiness down to the core discussion of friendship as a form of religious ritual. The procedure of becoming in tension with friends forced me to recognize true parts of myself that I would not have been able to see without their presence and activity in my life. In addition to knowing myself better through this friendship lens, I also was able to exercise different virtues that, as we have established, can only come out in relations with other people. I practiced patience in this particular case, in addition to caring, empathy, generosity, and forgiveness. This was not an easy situation in which I practiced these virtues — rather, I was challenged by the reality of our circumstances to rise up to meet those virtues. This was not something I could have done alone. Even though this was a difficult process, I feel that I am ultimately a better person because of the virtuous demands of friendship.

To expand on this, I found a psychology article speaking to the issue of our friends knowing us better than we know ourselves. For three simple reasons, our friends are able to expose usually-hidden parts of ourselves as a direct result of our togetherness – our closeness – with them. Those three points are 1) self-deception and self-protective bias, 2) perspective, and 3) actor-observer bias.[i] Because of the ritualistic acts we engage in with our friends (conscious or unconscious), we not only find others who can know us better, but we also allow ourselves the ability to find ourselves anew through our friends. To that point, I really do believe that the ethics of friendship present in Iranian, Christian, Islamic, and Secular traditions can be connected through the virtues of togetherness and happiness — virtues that are necessary in any human context.

[i] Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., “Why Your Friends May Know You Better Than You Do,” Psychology Today, June 26, 2016, , accessed March 02, 2018,




Riggio, Ronald E., Ph.D. “Why Your Friends May Know You Better Than You Do.” Psychology Today. June 26, 2016. Accessed March 02, 2018.




I affirm that I adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment.          x Megan Cox





Riggio, Ronald E., Ph.D. “Why Your Friends May Know You Better Than You Do.” Psychology Today. June 26, 2016. Accessed March 02, 2018.




I affirm that I adhered to the Honor Code on this assignment.          x Megan Cox

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