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Interfaith Leadership: Engaging Religious and Worldview Diversity for the Common Good

Prof. Valerie Edwards Robeson, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota (Winona, MN)

Shared with Permission1

In 2017, Prof. Valerie Edwards Robeson participated in a Teaching Interfaith Understanding faculty development seminar, run in partnership between the Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith Youth Core, and generously funded by the Henry Luce Foundation. For information on future seminars, and to access more resources created by seminar alumni, visit


Course Description

Life in 21st century America is characterized by a fascinating array of diversities, including religious, spiritual, and secular worldviews. Saint Mary’s Lasallian Catholic heritage is a rich resource for investigating, appreciating, and cultivating community among people who orient around religion differently. This course will present a pluralistic appreciation of diverse religious and ethical worldviews. To begin, students explore the relationship between diversity and pluralism. Students then explore how being aware of one’s worldview provides a framework for interacting with others and describe some essential elements of various religious and ethical worldviews or belief systems. The course will orient students to the attitudes and skills necessary to inspire relationships among people who hold different worldviews, and will actively engage students with others to develop these attitudes and skills. Students will articulate in first or third person the nature of an interfaith leadership identity through which one might actively engage the challenges and opportunities of serving the common good in work and in community life.

Course Goals

This course will develop capacities for community / communion currently inspiring diversity, inclusive community, and solidarity initiatives guided by the President’s Advisory Council on Unity and Diversity, and the transformation of the undergraduate general education curriculum, at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. The course adapts the learning outcomes of the Introduction to Interfaith Leadership Curriculum (Interfaith Youth Core and Dominican University, 2017) with reference to one of five Enduring Understandings at the heart of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s undergraduate general education curriculum (Enduring Understanding #5: “Search for Meaning”):

The Search for Meaning reflects eternal human longing; it is a dynamic process through which belief, including structures and communities of belief, fosters ongoing discernment of individual and communal purpose, pursued through charism, the use of one’s gifts for service to the community.

This course will:

  • Facilitate appreciation for religious pluralism.
  • Develop interfaith leadership identity.
  • Develop interfaith leadership skillset.
  • Identify and frame ethical responses to interfaith challenges and opportunities at the community level.
  • Identify thematic associations between interfaith dialogue and leadership, the Catholic intellectual tradition(s), and Lasallian charism(s).

Learning Outcomes

Students successfully completing the course will:

  • Develop a multidimensional understanding of worldview, belief, and related concepts, e.g., pluralism, religious literacy or fluency, and interfaith dialogue.
  • Explore personally held beliefs, articulate a personal worldview, and connect their worldview to their own sense of purpose.
  • Develop an appreciation of diverse religious, spiritual, and secular worldviews.
  • Understand the value of self-reflection as a disposition that sustains awareness of one’s beliefs and self-directed appreciative inquiry about other belief systems.
  • Anticipate the significance of religious pluralism in environments and situations one might encounter in everyday life, including development, perpetuation, and dismantling of stereotypes and bias, in workplaces and community life.
  • Develop introductory-level proficiency in communication and dialogue skills to speak and write in an informed and reflective manner about interreligious conflict, interfaith cooperation, civic engagement, and religious pluralism.
  • Identify sources of community-based expertise; propose inclusive methods for maximizing opportunities or engaging challenges; and directly contribute to a faith-inclusive community-based response process.
  • Identify relationships between their worldview, the Catholic intellectual tradition(s), and the Lasallian charism(s).

Required Learning Materials

This course will expose students to a variety of short readings and video from diverse sources. Through the course Blackboard (Bb) Learning Management System site, the instructor will provide either active links (to online content) or electronic files (typically PDFs) for all learning materials except the following, which students must obtain independently:

  • Eboo Patel. 2016. Interfaith Leadership: A Primer. Beacon Press: Boston, MA.
    • Paperback ISBN: 9780807033623
    • Widely available for purchase or rent; available in e-reader formats for Kindle and others.

Assessment Opportunities/Activities

Preparation / Participation Assignments (PPAs): 20 x 10 pts each = 200 pts, 40% of course grade
Each student completes 20 PPAs during the semester. (Each PPA is tied to a class session, of which there are about 30.) PPA “evidence” is due & collected at the beginning or end of each class period.  Examples: brief discussion board posts/responses; basic ideas quizzes; 30-60 second spoken responses to videos, readings, or experiences; out-of-class small-group text analysis assignments; and in-class dialogue facilitation.

Appreciative Knowledge Assignments: 4 x 25 pts each = 100 pts, 20% of course grade
Students will contribute individual research about sources of expertise on worldviews, faith traditions, and interfaith interaction in the form of written or video material in a class-curated collection. Further instructions provided separately; sources include:

  • Short selections from texts related to our institution’s Lasallian heritage and mission
  • “Pluralism” and “Rivers of Faith” pages, The Pluralism Project, Harvard University
  • Recent reports on religion and worldview, Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life
  • Islamic Resource Group – Minnesota
  • Islamic Center of Minnesota
  • Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas
  • Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil, Paul Bloom
  • Why God Won’t Go Away: Brain Science and the Biology of Belief, Andrew Newburg, Eugene D’Aquili, and Vince Rause
  • INTER: Interfaith Ideas for American Life (IFYC Digital Magazine)

Appreciative Engagement Class Project, Better Together Day 2018: 1 x 100 pts = 100 pts, 20% of course grade
To complete this project class members develop and host an on-campus panel comprised of leaders among local faith and worldview – diverse action groups (persons who orient around religion differently) in conjunction with the national Better Together Day campaign, in ways that contribute to the working agendas of the Winona Interfaith Council and/or the Winona Human Rights Commission. The event will facilitate story-telling about religious pluralism with a focus on the experiences of local immigrants. This assignment concludes with an Appreciative Knowledge Mashup assignment.

Interfaith Engagement Portfolio, 1 x 50 = 50 pts, 10% of course grade
Students write an Interfaith Engagement Plan; revise the plan twice during the semester as options and interests develop; document her/his interfaith engagement; and self-assesses the portfolio using the Pluralism and Worldview Engagement Rubric.

Closing the Loop (Final) Assignment, 1 x 50 = 50 pts, 10% of course grade
Students have three options for closing the loop to end the course with a personal worldview statement: (a) written and printed Interfaith Leadership Manifesto, (b) an in vivo This I Believe statement, or (c) a Moral Bucketlist presentation. (Extensive instructions for each option provided separately.)


Course Calendar

Class meets 2 times per week for 16 weeks

Week 1:

Tuesday: Getting Started on Our Shared Journey

Thursday: Defining Interfaith Leadership

Week 2:

Tuesday: Understanding “Interfaith”

  • Sources for class:
    • Eboo Patel, Interfaith Leadership, Chapter 2: The “Inter” in Interfaith
    • Eboo Patel, Interfaith Leadership, Chapter 3: The “Faith” in Interfaith

Thursday: Worldview – What Is It?

Week 3:

Tuesday: Worldview – What Is Mine?

World Interfaith Harmony Week Begins

Thursday: Pluralism and Diversity

Week 4:

Tuesday: Models of Religious Diversity

Thursday: Social Capital: A Resource for Understanding and Building the Common Good

  • Sources for class:  
    • “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century” by Robert Putnam
    • Parker J. Palmer's Five Habits of the Heart, Adapted from Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit

Week 5:

Tuesday: What Makes an Interfaith Leader?

  • Sources for class:
    • Susan Katz Miller’s On Being BothReview / Response by Rabbi Rachel Blarenblat
    • Chris Stedman, brief talk (20 mins) at Wheeler Centre, Melbourne, Australia; author of Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious
    • Laurie Patton. “The Right Way to Protect Free Speech on Campus.” The Wall Street Journal, June 9, 2017, accessible here

Thursday: Interfaith Experiences IRL [in real life]

  • Sources for class:
    • Interfaith Experiences in the Field
    • Guest: Young Alumni Panel (via Facebook Messenger video call)

This date is also the Missing Voices: Equity in Education Summit. Students participating in the event for this or another course will let us know far enough in advance that we can plan our class session smoothly.

Week 6:

Tuesday: The Power of Storytelling

Thursday: Power of Storytelling (continued)

Week 7:

Tuesday: No Class, Academic Recess

Thursday: No Class, Academic Recess

Week 8:

Tuesday: Becoming Aware of Religious/Worldview Diversity

Thursday: What Is Appreciative Knowledge?

De La Salle Week Events TBA: Many events throughout this week will be relevant to our course topics/themes. At the time the syllabus is written the schedule is not final. I will post the schedule to our course as soon as it is available.

Week 9:

Tuesday: The Interfaith Triangle

Thursday: Developing an Appreciative Knowledge Mindset

Week 10:

Tuesday, March 20: Historical Examples of Interfaith Cooperation

  • Sources for class:
    • Nostra Aetate
    • Christian Witness in a Multi-Religious World: Recommendations for Conduct, 2011, World Council of Churches, Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, and the World Evangelical Alliance
    • Eboo Patel, Interfaith Leadership, Chapter 6: The Skillset of Interfaith Leadership

Thursday: Historical Examples of Interfaith Cooperation (continued)

Bethlehem University: An Example [Guests: Robert Smith, FSC, PhD, Chief Academic Officer at Saint Mary’s, also former Vice President of Mission, Bethlehem University; and Bethlehem University students via Zoom]

Week 11:

Tuesday: Historical Examples of Interfaith Cooperation - Local

Thursday, No Class, Academic Recess

Week 12:

Tuesday: What Is an Ethic or Theology of Interfaith Cooperation?

Thursday: Building Relationships across Difference to Act on One’s Ethic/Theology of Interfaith Cooperation

Week 13:

Tuesday: Better Together Day 2018: Walking the Talk of Our Hearts and Minds

No face-to-face class will be held to accommodate student participation on Better Together Day events planned in collaboration with Winona Interfaith Council members and utilizing resources from the Knowledge Toolkit.

Thursday, April 12: Values as a Bridge to Dialogue across Ethics and Theologies: An Example

Class will focus on confirming our readiness for tonight’s (attendance encouraged) campus Interfaith dialogue on the shared value of hospitality. The dialogue calls us to consider existing and possible expressions of this value in the college community.

Week 14:

Tuesday: Interfaith Cooperation in the U.S. Today

Thursday: Creating Spaces for Interfaith Cooperation Where You Are

Week 15:

Tuesday: Interfaith Cooperation and the Civic Good of Pluralism

  • Sources for class:
    • Putting Interfaith Leadership into Practice (video, IFYC, 9 mins)
    • Five Measurable Outcomes of Increased Pluralism in Society (video, IFYC, 5 mins)
    • The Case Method and Pluralism”, Harvard University Pluralism Project
    • Assigned case (Bb only)

Thursday: Interfaith Cooperation and the Civic Good of Pluralism (continued)

  • Source for class:
    • Reza Fakhari, “Educating for Religious Pluralism and Inclusive Citizenship

Friday: Celebration of Scholarship

College-wide participation encouraged – see assignment in our course on Blackboard

Week 16:

Tuesday: Appreciative Knowledge Mashup Assignment Due + Presented in Class  

Thursday: Study Day – No Class

Saturday: Final Exam Session

The last assignment for our course will be presented during this session. Students have three options for closing the loop on your original worldview statement: (a) written and printed Manifesto, (b) an in vivo This I Believe statement, or (c) a Moral Bucketlist presentation. (Extensive instructions for each option provided separately.)


1In consultation with the author, this syllabus has been edited for length, removing details particular to the author’s context such as office hours and location, absence policies, honor codes, and other instructor-specific (or institution-specific) details.