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Course Sequence Grants: Emerging Programs in Interfaith and Interreligious Studies

Background

As part of a three-year project funded by the Teagle Foundation, IFYC has partnered with seventeen colleges and universities to develop academic programs in interfaith studies. Utilizing grant funds, these institutions have garnered support and convened colleagues to create curricular programs – including majors, minors, concentrations, certificates, and course sequences – that focus on interfaith and interreligious engagement.

At the project’s mid-point, a number of key findings emerged. While outlining student learning outcomes across programs and within new syllabi, faculty were given the opportunity to consider distinct characteristics of interfaith studies, which creates opportunities for students to learn among and alongside diverse individuals and communities rather than about them exclusively in a classroom context. As such, a number of similar learning outcomes surfaced across these diverse programs: the need to instill religious literacy, the value of learning opportunities in the community or in professional spaces, the benefit of creating space for personal reflection, and the importance of addressing other identity intersections (race, gender, class, etc.) alongside religious and philosophical identity. Faculty also recognized opportunities for growth and learning around developing faculty expertise (especially given the interdisciplinary nature of interfaith and interreligious studies), the need to create tools for program assessment, and the need to communicate the value and impact of this field to students with competing priorities.

This resource provides an overview of these new academic programs, highlights key findings from the overall project, and summarizes each institution’s grant-related work.

Fast Facts

  • Through this grant project, the following programs in interfaith/interreligious studies have taken shape:
    • One major
    • Two certificates
    • Three course sequences
    • Eight minors
  • Of these fourteen programs, ten have been approved by their college or university and launched in the fall of 2015. The remaining four programs will seek approval during the 2015-2016 academic year.
  • The programs are housed in the following departments, colleges, or centers:
    • Eight programs are housed within religion, theology, or philosophy departments
    • Four programs are housed within a college of arts and sciences
    • One program is housed within a college of business
    • One program is housed in a center affiliated with the university
  • Interdisciplinary faculty and courses are included in every program. Although religion and theology are key focus areas, programs include a range of courses in business, management, philosophy, biology, psychology, marketing, history, literature, social work, journalism, pre-health professions, and more.

Key Findings

  • Grant recipients stressed the relevance and value of cross-department collaboration with faculty from diverse disciplines in their course sequences, certificates, minors, and majors. This garnered support from a larger cross-section of faculty on campus, and also distinguished interfaith and interreligious studies programs from already-established religion or theology programs.
  • Campuses not only stressed the value of cross-department collaboration, but cross-institutional collaboration as well. A number of grantees commissioned scholars from other campuses to offer feedback on their programs. In other cases, grantees from different institutions met informally to discuss their ideas.
  • Of approved programs, about half offer applied or professional opportunities related to the field of interfaith and interreligious studies. These opportunities took shape via internships, site visits, service learning, study abroad programs, or through other community partnerships. The goal of providing these opportunities, according to grantees, was to underscore the contemporary relevance of classroom-based theories and methods.
  • A number of campuses have planned or executed program assessment. Many grantees hope to develop tools for measuring both the qualitative and quantitative aspects of their programs.

Campus Summaries

Benedictine University – Lisle, IL

  • Benedictine University created an Interfaith Studies Certificate, which launched in the fall of 2015. The certificate is housed in the Department of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies.
  • The certificate aims to help students of any major become conversant in the theory and practice of interfaith engagement.
  • Included in the certificate are four academic courses: two introductory courses from religion or theology, and two interdisciplinary elective courses. The fifth course in the certificate is a co-curricular Interfaith Oral History Archives project. The Oral History Archives project is an initiative led by the library archivist, and provides students with the opportunity to capture interfaith stories through journalism in the local community.
  •  In addition to creating the certificate, faculty leaders hosted two workshops to discuss the program, which in turn led faculty from all four colleges (Science, Business, Liberal Arts, Education, and Health) to create new and revised courses for the Interfaith Studies Certificate.

California State University (CSU), Chico – Chico, CA

  • At California State University Chico, a team of seven faculty from seven different departments worked together to create an interdisciplinary Certificate in Interreligious and Intercultural Studies.
  • The certificate includes seven courses: one course in world religions, one course in multicultural relations, two courses in religion and social issues, a new required course called “Interreligious Conflict and Cooperation,” one course in religious diversity in a professional or disciplinary context, and one senior internship in religious diversity.
  • The certificate seeks to equip students with competencies suitable for a range of professional pursuits including education, health care, social services, business, and both governmental and non-governmental organizations.
  • Of 355 students that participated in a survey about the certificate, 85% thought the certificate was a good idea and 40% indicated that they would be interested in pursuing the program. This high success rate may be attributed to, in part, framing this certificate as something that enhances interfaith competencies in professional spaces.

California Lutheran University – Thousand Oaks, CA

  • California Lutheran University has developed a team-taught course called “Interfaith Organization and Development,” which launched in the fall of 2015. In the spring of 2016 a two-unit course will be offered that serves as an integration of curricular and co-curricular interfaith work, where students participate in traditional academic work alongside interfaith service and organizing.
  • In addition to this course sequence, interfaith components are now integrated in each Religion 100 course, which includes concepts such as IFYC’s Voice/Engage/Act model, as well as readings from scholars like Diana Eck.
  • The grant leads hosted a colloquia series for religion faculty to discuss shared readings, vocabulary, and pedagogies related to interfaith studies. Because these colloquia were successful, they plan to host two more: one for non-religion faculty and a second for adjunct religion faculty.
  • Grant leads have also garnered support for interfaith work in areas outside of the curriculum. Firstly, constructive changes were made to the student-based Interfaith Interns Program. Secondly, the university finalized the hiring of an Interfaith Strategist, who is on campus to infuse interfaith cooperation within co-curricular programs, campus ministry, and the administrative cabinet.

Concordia College – Moorhead, MN

  • Concordia College has created an Interfaith Studies Minor, which consists of twenty-one credits: a foundational course called “Faith in Dialogue,” one course from the religion department, two non-religion elective courses, one practicum course, and one capstone course.
  • The program seeks to educate students in the theory and practice of a pluralist approach to religious diversity, instill appreciative knowledge and interreligious literacy, and integrate academic learning with vocational aspirations.
  • Experiential and action-based learning methods are key to the minor, including opportunities such as site visits, internships, practica, service-learning, and dialogue events.
  • Exemplifying the interdisciplinary nature of the program, twenty-eight faculty from eleven different disciplines have expressed interest in teaching elective courses within the minor.

Dominican University – River Forest, IL

  • Dominican University launched an Interfaith Studies Minor in fall of 2015. The minor consists of seven courses: one introductory course, five interdisciplinary electives, and one internship or capstone project.
  • An interdisciplinary team called the Interfaith Faculty Learning Community (IFLC), which consisted of thirteen faculty members ranging from departments such as chemistry, English, liberal arts and sciences, modern foreign languages, political science, theology, business, and education, created the Interfaith Studies Minor. A workshop with Muhammad Shafiq, from the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue at Nazareth College, was helpful to IFLC’s success.
  • Jeffrey Carlson taught the introductory course for the minor in spring 2015, where the max number of students who could enroll (twenty-five) participated.
  • Eight faculty from the IFLC redesigned existing courses or developed new courses appropriate for the minor, including courses such as “Natural Products Chemistry in Traditional Medicine and Modern Health Care,” a study abroad course on “The al-Andalus in World Literature: Interfaith Dialogue and the ‘People of the Book,’” and “Religion and World Politics.”

Drew University – Madison, NJ

  • Drew University developed a four-course sequence, the Global Peace and Interfaith Leadership (GPIL) program, which includes one introductory course, one interreligious literacy course, one off-campus experience course, and one capstone course.
  • The GPIL program is meant to combine classroom learning around interreligious and intercultural literacy with hands-on activities that put knowledge in context and learning into action.
  • Between the three schools at Drew (the College of Liberal Arts, the Theological School, and the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies), 18 faculty attended meetings to plan this program, and at least 10 have agreed to teach courses, supervise internships, and advise students.
  • Local interfaith organizations and faith leaders plan to be involved with the program, providing student internships and hosting site visits.

Duke University – Durham, NC

  • Duke University utilized grant funds to convene an advisory committee and submit a proposal for an interreligious service-learning FOCUS group, which is a program designed to enhance first-year student experience.
  • Alongside submitting the FOCUS proposal, Duke reports that students have come on-board around interfaith initiatives in more meaningful ways. This is partly due to interreligious/interfaith events that have taken place on campus, but can also be attributed to an increase in research opportunities related to interreligious cooperation.

Earlham College – Richmond, IN

  • Earlham College utilized grant funds to host campus-based gatherings throughout the academic year, events which generated on-going conversations around religious diversity and literacy on campus. These helped to develop conversation, particularly amongst a wider range of faculty than previously interested, to address pedagogy, content, and resources related to interfaith/ interreligious studies.
  • Earlham also utilized funding to host speakers on campus, which included author and Humanist Chaplain Chris Stedman.

Elon University – Elon, NC

  • Elon University has created an interdisciplinary Interreligious Studies Minor, which is housed in the Religion Department.
  • The minor includes four courses in the Religion Department, one course outside of the Religion Department, two required site visits to places of worship, and a capstone course titled “Interreligious Encounters.”
  • The minor is meant to equip students to analyze the field of religious studies, recognize and appreciate the contours of religious difference, interact first-hand with diverse religious communities, recognize the intersections of religious traditions within their cultural, political, and economic contexts, reflect in a nuanced way about the interactions of religious traditions and communities, and critique existing models for interfaith understanding while constructively suggesting improvements.
  • In addition to creating the Minor, faculty have established community partnerships and protocols for site visits to ensure mutually beneficial off-campus relationships.

Elizabethtown College – Elizabethtown, PA

  • Elizabethtown College approved the country’s first interdisciplinary major in Interfaith Leadership Studies in February of 2015. The major includes six required courses centered around interfaith leadership, two courses in religious literacy, three courses related to religious diversity and civil society (including areas such as anthropology, biology, history, international relations, and psychology), and two courses in professional skills and experiential learning.
  • Elizabethtown also launched a six-course interdisciplinary minor in Interfaith Leadership Studies, which overlaps with many of the college’s core curriculum. The minor is meant to be accessible to students in pre-professional programs, such as business, education, occupational therapy, and social work.
  • The program has the commitment of twenty faculty in eleven different disciplines.
  • The committee of faculty involved with this project have not only garnered support across campus, but also within in the community at large. They have built relationships with religious communities in the area, which may be leveraged for the program’s experiential learning components.

Loyola University Chicago

  • Loyola University Chicago has created an Interfaith Studies Minor, which launched in the fall of 2015.
  • The program consists of six courses: two required foundational courses (one if which is the new “Religious Diversity in Theory and Practice” course), two electives, one 300-level integrative course, and a capstone internship.
  • The minor seeks to give students the following: an appreciate knowledge of multiple religious traditions, an understanding of the problems and effective solutions that arise in religiously pluralistic contexts, a set of contextual tools to navigate the benefits and challenges of religious diversity in America, and an interdisciplinary approach to the lived reality of religious pluralism.
  • While creating the minor, five faculty members from various departments (theology, sociology, and the Islamic World Studies program) developed courses appropriate for the minor.

Oklahoma City University (OCU) – Oklahoma City, OK

  • Oklahoma City University has created an interdisciplinary Interfaith Studies Minor, which launched in the fall of 2015.
  • Replacing their pre-existing World Religions Minor, the Interfaith Studies Minor is housed in the School of Religion and consists of six courses: two religion courses, three electives (at least one of which must be taken outside of the School of Religion), and an internship in an interfaith setting.
  • The learning outcomes for the minor are to gain an overview of the world’s major religious traditions, develop appreciate knowledge and seek understanding across lines of difference, examine shared values of diverse traditions in contemporary culture, demonstrate critical understanding of how religions impact social and political landscapes, and demonstrate leadership skills in settings were persons or groups orient around religion differently.
  • OCU’s goal for the 2015-2016 academic year is to market the program successfully, and have six students signed up to complete the minor.

Saint Mary’s College of California – Moraga, CA

  • Saint Mary’s College of California launched an interdisciplinary Interfaith Leadership Minor in the fall of 2015, which is housed within the School of Economics and Business Administration.
  • The minor consists of 6.25 courses, which includes four courses regarding the intersection of interfaith cooperation and anthropology, business, ethics, communication, and psychology, two interdisciplinary electives, and a quarter-credit interfaith leadership praxis course.
  • The minor includes faculty and courses from psychology, kinesiology, business, anthropology, ethnic studies, leadership, communication, global and regional studies, history, politics, and religious studies.
  • Students enrolled in the minor will explore issues of identity and bias, identity and bias, communication and dialogue, religious literacy, and leadership and praxis.

University of La Verne – La Verne, CA

  • University of La Verne’s Interfaith Studies Minor was launched in the spring of 2015, and includes six courses: five courses regarding interfaith leadership, historical knowledge of interfaith cooperation, religious literacy, and interfaith service, and one capstone course.
  • The grant leads hosted a retreat for ten faculty and staff, as well as community religious leaders, to develop goals for the interfaith studies minor.
  • In addition, La Verne hosted two workshops for faculty who wished to integrate interfaith themes in their coursework. This led one faculty member in the business department to reorganize a course, which now includes case studies of religious and cultural tension in the workplace.
  • Grantees also hosted Najeeba Syeed-Miller, a professor at the Claremont-Lincoln School of Theology, to gain her insights on their new program.

University of Toledo – Toledo, OH

  • The University of Toledo has developed an Interreligious Studies Concentration, which is housed within the Religious Studies Major.
  • The concentration consists of 12 credit hours, which includes one course in religious studies and two interdisciplinary courses. This concertation provides a more extended study of interreligious dynamics by way of case studies, theory, community service, and internships.
  • Students in the program will work closely with the campus’ Center for Religious Understanding, which provides extra-curricular opportunities for interfaith engagement.
  • In addition, grant leads have integrated a new interfaith studies unit into each World Religions and Introduction to Religion course (which are classes with large enrollment, with up to 500 students in World Religions and 150 in Introduction to Religion each year). The unit introduces the basics of interreligious literacy and encourages discussion on the topic.

Wofford College – Spartanburg, SC

  • Wofford College utilized grant funds to develop and implement a new course titled “Interfaith Engagement and Religious Pluralism,” which was co-taught by two religious studies professors, one of whom is also the College Chaplain.
  • The theory of interfaith engagement was explored in the classroom, and the praxis of interfaith engagement was explored largely through a class trip to Washington DC. The trip included visits to the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, the U.S. Department of State, the Islamic Society of North America, and the Public Religion Research Institute. Students enrolled in the class reported a high level of engagement, and appreciated the opportunity to learn from concrete organizations engaging religious diversity in America.