Teaching Interfaith Understanding

The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) are pleased to announce a multidisciplinary seminar on Teaching Interfaith Understanding for full-time faculty members at CIC member colleges and universities. The seminar will broaden faculty members’ knowledge and perspective to help them strengthen the teaching of interfaith understanding, develop new courses and other resources, and encourage the development of an expanding network of faculty members who are committed to teaching this subject. The seminar, offered by CIC and IFYC and generously supported by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, will cover most costs of participation for those faculty members who are selected.

Religious diversity, along with contestations of religious belonging, pluralism, and inclusion, has become an increasingly fraught topic in American public discourse and public life, even as American campuses have become more religiously diverse. On many campuses, interfaith activities are expanding, drawing increased attention from students, campus staff and administrators, and faculty members. The 2016 seminar will examine how interfaith understanding can be taught effectively in the college classroom so that students are equipped for interfaith engagement and leadership both in the classroom and beyond.

Although some scholars—primarily those within the fields of comparative religion or comparative theology—have addressed such topics for years, many faculty members in the humanities are seeking new ways to connect their expertise with efforts to foster religious pluralism. There also is increasing interest in these topics from faculty members in fields such as education, health care, and business in which the challenges of religious diversity will have an impact on students’ postgraduate professions. Arguably, education on such topics is critical not only to counter religious illiteracy and insensitivity, but also to prepare students for civic responsibility in a religiously diverse world. These objectives raise significant pedagogical and methodological questions for faculty members. How might faculty members within religious studies, as well as those in other fields with practical or theoretical connections to questions of interfaith cooperation, apply these ideas to their own courses? What pitfalls may arise for faculty members who breach the sensitive topics of religious identity and diversity within an academic classroom? How can faculty members effectively connect curricular and cocurricular interfaith work? What should a student know after taking a course about interfaith understanding, and how might that learning be assessed?

About the Seminar

This seminar, led by Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury, and Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, will examine the substantial theoretical questions inherent in teaching interfaith understanding and explore the practical work of translating these ideas into courses. Participating faculty members will have opportunities to develop teaching resources such as syllabi and course modules that may be shared online with colleagues at many other institutions. Each day of the seminar will focus on a particular dimension of interfaith understanding—such as models of interfaith collaboration and pedagogies for teaching interfaith cooperation—and will include both theoretical and applied work. The seminar will blend text-based discussions of key theoretical concepts, experiential activities such as visiting sites and practicing models of interfaith dialogue, and analysis of tools to teach interfaith cooperation.

Seminar Directors
Eboo Patel is the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core and author of the books Sacred Ground (2012) and Acts of Faith (2007), which won the Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion. Patel is a regular contributor to the Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, National Public Radio, and CNN. He served on President Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Patel recently delivered the Greeley Lecture at Harvard University Divinity School, the Coca-Cola World Lecture at Yale University, the inaugural commencement address at Claremont Lincoln University, and a series of lectures at Union Theological Seminary, where he served as a visiting distinguished guest lecturer during the 2012–2013 academic year. He has taught courses on interfaith cooperation at many institutions including the University of Chicago, Princeton Theological Seminary, Northwestern University, and Dominican University (IL), where he was the Lund-Gill Chair. Patel holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship.
Laurie Patton became the 17th president of Middlebury on July 1, 2015, after serving for four years at Duke University as dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences and as the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion. From 1996 to 2011, Patton served on the faculty and administration at Emory University, where she was the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Religions and the inaugural director of Emory’s Center for Faculty Development and Excellence in the Office of the Provost. Patton began her career at Bard College, where she was assistant professor of Asian religions from 1991 to 1996. She is the author or editor of eight books on South Asian history, culture, and religion. In addition, she has translated the classical Sanskrit text, The Bhagavad Gita, and has published two books of poetry. Patton has lectured widely on interfaith issues and religion and public life, and she has consulted with White House offices on faith-based initiatives and civic engagement. In May 2014, she was named the Alumna of the Year at the University of Chicago Divinity School. She is a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Chicago.

 Participants, Locations, and Expenses

The IFYC and CIC will select 25 participants by competitive nomination. Full-time faculty members at U.S. colleges and universities are eligible to be considered, with preference given to those at CIC member institutions. The seminar will take place at DePaul University on July 31–August 4, 2016. Lodging, most meals, and reading materials will be provided, thanks to generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation. Participants or their institutions are expected to cover transportation to and from the seminar location.

 Nomination Process

Faculty members who wish to participate should ask the chief academic officer of their institution to send a letter of nomination that emphasizes the nominee’s qualifications and the opportunities that the nominee will have upon returning home to incorporate what has been learned into his or her teaching or developing campus programs. Preference will be given to nominees whose plans to develop and offer new courses are definite and already have institutional approval and support. Each institution may nominate more than one individual, and faculty members in all academic ranks are eligible to participate. The nomination form is available online. Each nomination should consist of the following:
  1. Nomination letter from the chief academic officer endorsing the nominee and explaining the current status of interfaith initiatives on campus, what the institution intends to do in this area in the near future, and how the nominee will be utilized following participation in the seminar;
  2. Completed nomination form;
  3. Nominee’s curriculum vitae; and
  4. Nominee’s statement of reasons for wishing to participate in the seminar and explanation of involvement in current interfaith activities, the kinds of courses and activities that are likely to be developed following participation in the seminar, and the formal status of these plans.

 Nomination Deadline

Please submit the completed nomination online by Friday, February 19, 2016.

Selection of participants will be announced by: Friday, March 11, 2016.

If you have any questions or comments please contact Stephen Gibson, CIC’s director of programs, at sgibson@cic.nche.edu or (202) 466-7230.
CIC is grateful to the Henry Luce Foundation for support of the Teaching Interfaith Understanding Seminars.