Faculty Members Work to Strengthen the Teaching of Interfaith Understanding

This summer, 25 CIC faculty members in the humanities and social sciences participated in a seminar designed to strengthen the teaching of interfaith understanding and develop new courses and resources on the subject. CIC and Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) hosted the sixth Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminar June 18–22, at DePaul University (IL) in Chicago, with generous support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury College (VT), and Eboo Patel, founder and president of IFYC, led the seminar. After a welcoming dinner hosted by IFYC, participants broke into small groups to discuss narrative case studies that they had submitted in advance of the seminar and that would serve as the foundation of the plenary discussions throughout the week. These case studies offered a powerful tool to explore methodologies and pedagogies for teaching interfaith topics. The studies typically identified a central challenge or question encountered while teaching interfaith understanding, including: How can faculty members create a classroom atmosphere that enables diverse faith perspectives and experiences to be heard and respected? And were there times when a faculty member was unsure about how to respond to an interfaith issue in the classroom?

Rami Nashashibi sits at the head of a table gesturing with his hands to seated participants
Participants in the 2017 Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminar visited the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), where they were welcomed by executive director Rami Nashashibi. IMAN is a community organization in Chicago’s southwest side that fosters health, wellness, and healing in the inner-city by organizing for social change, cultivating the arts, and operating a holistic health center.

One case study came from a biologist whose students discussed Ramadan throughout her summer limnology course (the biological study of freshwater lakes) because a Muslim student started to fast mid-way through the course. This led to a discussion about the “spaces” that lead to comfortable and productive interfaith exchange, which the biology professor helped create.

Other case studies addressed some of the challenges interfaith advocates face given the nation’s current, politically charged atmosphere. In one study, a Christian institution created a prayer room for non-Christian students—a demographic that was increasing on campus. While most constituents on campus were happy to see this new space, others in the surrounding community expressed disapproval that a Christian college would accommodate non-Christians. This led to a productive discussion during the seminar about religious accommodation, as well as the role of campus-community relationships and partnerships in interfaith spaces.
In addition to sharing and learning from case studies, during the week participants also developed syllabi, discussed questions of inclusivity and freedom of expression on campuses, explored the Teaching Interfaith Understanding resource library developed with CIC, and heard about Patton’s experiences using case studies and teaching Patel’s 2016 book, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer, in an international context.

The week included special events such as a site visit to the Inner-City Muslim Action Network in Chicago. Participants also heard from Katie Brick, director of the Office of Religious Diversity at DePaul University, who led participants on a tour of the university’s interfaith space that includes prayer, meditation, and worship locations to accommodate Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, and Buddhist practices on campus.

The seminar concluded with an interactive session to help participants identify assets, challenges, and opportunities for advancing interfaith efforts on their own campuses. At the end of the seminar Laurie Patton reflected, “This seminar is always an inspiration. The participants are doing critical work creating new models for rigorous interfaith collaboration in the 21st century. Liberal arts colleges are continuing to take the lead.”

CIC will announce the 2018 Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminar this fall. For more information, visit the program page.

2017 Teaching Interfaith Understanding Seminar Participants

Albright College (PA)
Samira Mehta
Assistant Professor of Religious Studies

Bennett College (NC)
Annette Wilson
Assistant Professor of Curriculum and Instruction

Centenary College of Louisiana
Christopher Ciocchetti
Associate Professor of Philosophy

Columbia College (SC)
Robin Rosenthal
Professor of Psychology

Culver-Stockton College (MO)
Andrew Walsh
Professor of Religion and Philosophy

Dakota Wesleyan University (SD)
Jesse Weins
Associate Professor of Criminal Justice

Drake University (IA)
Timothy Knepper
Professor of Philosophy and Religion

Goucher College (MD)
Ann Duncan
Associate Professor of Religion

Hope College (MI)
Lynn Japinga
Professor of Religion

Lewis University (IL)
Clare Rothschild
Professor of Theology

Lindenwood University (MO)
Nichole Torbitzky
Assistant Professor of Religion

Lyon College
Martha Beck
Professor of Philosophy

Madonna University (MI)
Veronica Riha
Professor of Biology
McMurry University (TX)
Mark Waters
Professor of Religion and Servant Leadership

Millsaps College (MS)
James Bowley
Professor of Religious Studies

Muskingum University (OH)
Melissa Conroy
Associate Professor Religion

Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
Valerie Edwards Robeson
Associate Professor of Social Science

Spring Hill College (AL)
Demetrius Semien
Assistant Professor of Sociology

Springfield College (MA)
Katherine Dugan
Assistant Professor of Religion

St. Olaf College (MN)
Jason Ripley
Associate Professor of Religion

Thomas More College (KY)
Catherine Sherron
Professor of Philosophy

University of Evansville (IN)
Tamara Gieselman
Faculty in Residence, Religion, Law, Politics, and Society

University of Redlands (CA)
Lillian Larsen
Associate Professor of Religion

University of the Incarnate Word (TX)
Tanja Stampfl
Associate Professor of English

Westminster College (PA)
Bryan Rennie
Professor of Social Sciences and Humanities