Building Bridges, Deepening Faith: Interfaith Leadership on Christian Campuses
Growing diversity in the United States is challenging our country’s cohesion. When diversity is left unengaged it can contribute to and even exacerbate tribalism; nevertheless, we know that diversity can also be a source of strength when engaged productively.
A recent groundbreaking longitudinal study of 20,000+ college students across the country showed that students who took part in activities that intentionally engaged religious diversity simultaneously deepened their commitment to their own religious identity.
We are at a critical crossroad in our national history: will we continue to divide further, or will we choose to come together to build a stronger society? The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities and the Interfaith Youth Core believe that individual religious identities can and should serve as a bridge, not a barrier, to working together with others from diverse backgrounds toward the common good.
Through generous support from The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, CCCU and IFYC are offering grants in the amount of $10,000 to support individual CCCU campuses as they implement initiatives to advance religious literacy and bridge-building across diverse religious communities in academic year 2020-21.
Grant applications will be open on February 12, 2020 and applications are due April 10, 2020. All CCCU schools in the United States are eligible to apply for a campus grant. Grants are primarily intended to support activities on campuses new to the field of interfaith engagement, though innovative approaches to deepening existing work will also be considered. Grants will be awarded in May 2020. Grant funds must be spent between August 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021. Please review the Request for Proposals before applying. Please contact Megan Johnson firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions about the grant application process.
The Campus Interfaith Inventory (CII) is required for all institutions applying for a grant. Please ensure you have completed the CII before applying. You will need to request your campus’s unique Campus Interfaith Inventory link. If you have questions about the Campus Interfaith Inventory, please contact Rob LeLaurin, email@example.com.
The following activities were funded by past IFYC grants of $4,000 and offer concrete examples of what interfaith programming can look like on CCCU campuses. Given the increased amount of the “Building Bridges, Deepening Faith” CCCU-IFYC grant, we are eager to see what additional activities and impact might result from increased funds.
- Bethel University
Based in St. Paul, Minnesota, Bethel University is one of the largest institutions in the 13-member Christian College Consortium. Primarily an Evangelical Christian university, the campus is now home to a population of nearly 4,500 students from across 22 countries. Faculty and staff working on creating a more robust interfaith space on campus are often posed with a challenging question: How do they approach interfaith work in a way that aligns with Bethel’s core beliefs?
Amy Poppinga, associate professor of History at Bethel, believes that concerns around interfaith work are mainly the result of lack of understanding and discussion around what Interfaith engagement truly means. To demystify some of the stereotypes and address these concerns, Amy applied for an ‘Advancing Leadership Practices on Christian Campuses’ grant from IFYC.
Bethel’s grant project focused on introducing the concepts of civic religious pluralism to the campus community and equipping staff and faculty to engage the topic in their work with students.
One of the key events under the project was Bethel's first-ever ‘Interfaith 101’ session which had over 50 staff members in attendance from the campus ministry, office of student life, and other departments. Another follow-up session was hosted a few weeks later due to overwhelmingly positive feedback from the participants, and they’ve been asked to host it as a yearly tradition. Faculty members also facilitated several reading group discussions throughout the year, examining Bethel faculty Marion Larson and Sara Shady’s book: From Bubble to Bridge: Educating Christians for a Multi-faith World.
The reading group discussions brought staff and faculty members together over several sessions, and both groups expressed their appreciation for having the rare opportunity to interact and work together. In a post-event survey, one of the participants commented:
“Thank you for sharing on your specific areas of expertise, allowing room for discussion and questions, and helping me grow in my understanding of interfaith dialogue and initiatives."
The highlight of the project was a two-day workshop for faculty and staff to develop interfaith components for courses and extracurricular programs. The event had 20 participants from offices of Admissions, Career and Calling, Academic Affairs, and various academic departments including Journalism, Social Work, Art, and Education. As a result of these efforts, participants gained an in-depth understanding of interfaith concepts, and designed interfaith projects to implement in their respective departments.
Amy Poppinga shares that the grant project better equipped participants to articulate to others why and how civic religious pluralism is connected to the Bethel ethos as well as to the Christian commitment to love thy neighbor.
- North Park University
At North Park University in Chicago, IL, what began as a conversation with students and staff about the need to reduce stigmas around mental health within culture groups on campus led to the need to understand how to care for self and others through the lens of faith and culture.
Rooted in the Christian faith, North Park is home to over 3,200 students from many faith backgrounds. With an IFYC campus grant, their project focused on the development of a new Health and Wellness Program that would accommodate the unique perspectives and needs of students from diverse religious backgrounds.
The project team, comprised of faculty members and students, regularly consults with Swedish Covenant Hospital to provide training and education on health and wellness and religious diversity to its campus community. They also provide resources to around eight cultural and religious student groups on campus to increase campus community dialogue on health and wellness from diverse religious traditions.
The team hosted a roundtable luncheon for community leaders and students to discuss opportunities to care for self and care for others within each specific agency. One of the key successes of the project was establishing partnership with the Civic Engagement department on campus, which broadens the scope for discussion with the community at large.
Kim Edstrom Schiller, Wellness Education & Title IX Coordinator at North Park, shares that the grant project witnessed key growth in the areas of student leadership and campus-community partnership. She writes that the project helped student leaders develop a better understanding and rapport, across culture and geography, and the grant provided the opportunity to bring students together and understand resources in the community and the need for communication/conversation with those with whom you may not otherwise interact.
- Baylor University
Baylor University in Waco, Texas, is a private Christian university home to over 3,000 students from across 89 countries. To improve and increase civic, intercultural, and interfaith literacy around campus, Josh Ritter, the Assistant Director of Spirituality and Public Life in the Office of Spiritual Life, applied for an IFYC Campus Grant.
The grant was used to design Baylor’s first interdisciplinary ‘Civic and Interfaith Studies’ curriculum that offers two courses: Interfaith Leadership, and Religion and Public Life. The curriculum also includes an interfaith community engagement project that allows students to apply their classroom lessons in their work with social service agencies and diverse religious communities in the area.
The curriculum has made an impact on the way students, faculty, and administrators view their campus life experience.
A student enrolled in the Interfaith Leadership course was a member of the New Student Experiences committee. Every year, the NSE plans a Baylor Line Camp orientation event for its incoming students, a part of which involves a Christian worship service. After taking the course, the student shared her concerns with the NSE committee about how an exclusively Christian worship service might be received by students of other faiths and what steps could be taken to make it more inclusive. One of the NSE staff members later commented that:
“Your students in Interfaith Leadership are challenging us in some of our assumptions about students at Baylor in a good way. They are thoughtful and offer constructive criticism that will allow us to become more inclusive.”
Other students are also actively working towards allowing other diverse religious student organizations to become chartered on campus, and many students are working with the Student Government to get this in motion in order to provide space for students from non-Christian backgrounds to meet together and practice their beliefs.
Faculty members, too, have commented on how the curriculum has changed their perspectives. In a post-event survey, a faculty member wrote:
“This work has changed my career goals. It has helped me come out of my shell, and I feel like I am a part of something important. It gives me hope that Baylor can be the Baylor I know it can be and that I want it to be.”
Moving forward, the aim is to transform the curriculum into a sustainable Civic and Interfaith Studies Certificate program. One of the biggest successes of the grant project, according to Josh Ritter, was receiving support and legitimacy from faculty and overall institutional administrators. They were also able to establish partnerships on campus between offices of Spiritual Life, Academy for Leader Development, Department of Education, School of Social Work, and Baylor Interdisciplinary Core.