AHMEDABAD – To cover religion in India is to come as close to the core of the nation itself.

That much seems evident to us after 10 days of traveling and reporting on religion issues in India. But even with that certainty, ambiguity rules: Lines are often blurry, dualism doesn’t mean two distinct opposites, views are fluid and often changing. Still, journalism is the best tool that we have to solidify and explain these amorphous ideas.

These were among the notions that emerged from a spirited panel discussion that Professor Trivedi convened this morning in our hotel, the Hyatt Regency. One of the panelists, Rohit Bansal, group communications director of the Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries, put it this way:

“India operates on multiple levels. The opposite could always be true.”

Also on the panel were the editors of two Gujarati newspapers. They were Ajay Umat, editor of NavGujarat Samay, and Nirmam Shah, publisher of Gujarat Samachar. The panelists explored how religion touches every single aspect of Indian society, and how covering — and fully understanding

— the subject is absolutely paramount to helping the public digest the entire story.

With India following the global right-wing shift, who would act as the voice of the people? Who would keep the politicians in check?

The truth is sacrosanct, no matter what continent we’re reporting from.

Mr. Umat shared some wise words he once received from a mentor. He asked the students to always think in terms of “So what and what’s next?”

When it comes to covering religion in India, the so what is clear. But what comes next is anyone’s guess, and this is why understanding the religious landscape of the nation is paving the way forward for future journalists.

Saturday was our last full day in India. After the morning panel, we went our different ways to finish our reporting projects before meeting in the evening for our formal farewell dinner, held at a restaurant called the House of MG. Gathering there was like stepping back in time. The property was built in 1924 for a wealthy textile mogul, Mangaldas Girdhardas, and it retains an element of old world charm that spurs the imagination. Looking around the room, it’s easy to picture a seasoned foreign correspondent sitting with a minister sipping a cup of chai masala discussing the finer points of religious and cultural context in a world vastly different from today.

If these imaginary characters had known a group of 14 students would be doing the exact same thing almost 100 years later, they surely would have smiled and offered encouraging words.

And encouraging words were exactly what Professor Goldman and Professor Trivedi offered the students as the trip drew to a close. We shared our favorite moments of the trip; we laughed, we sympathized, we expressed gratitude.

Then it hit us: None of us will ever be the same after this trip. We’ll look at the world through a lens crafted by our experiences in this incredible nation full of religious diversity. We gained the skills necessary to cover religion with an open mind and an empathetic heart.

And, aside from holi in Vrindavan, that’s why we came to India.

Photo by Ana Singh