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Student Interfaith Literacy

What it is and How to Make it Happen

Interfaith literacy is the idea that we should be intentional about building appreciative knowledge of religious and ethical traditions different from our own. It’s one thing to increase interfaith literacy within the group, committee, or department where interfaith work is housed on campus—but what if your group could inject interfaith literacy into the very fabric of the campus culture at large? This resource will help you think about why and how to weave interfaith literacy into the fabric of your campus culture.

"Why is this Important?"

In a day and age where religious difference is often painted with a negative brush, we see college students offering a counter-narrative at campuses across the country. Since college campuses can be representative of society at large, we think that wider social change has great promise in the hands of college students. Below are five ways you can increase interfaith literacy across campus.

1) Host a campus-wide photo campaign that highlights religious diversity.
It’s hard to miss the idea that folks of various walks of life have positive elements to their worldview when they’re pasted all over the campus. Take a look at Saint Louis University, for example. Their interfaith group asked a wide variety of students to discuss their religious and philosophical values and write what interfaith cooperation means to them on a sign. They snapped a photo of each person holding up their response. These pictures were shared with the campus body and made into a Facebook photo album.

2) Identify a well-attended function on campus and add an interfaith literacy component.
There are few things more strategic in getting your message across than coupling it with an event that’s already established and successful. Let’s shift our attention to Dominican University, located outside of Chicago, for this puppy. They have a Thanksgiving dinner each year that oodles of people always attend, and nearly every realm of the campus community is represented. Students on the interfaith council saw an opportunity to add an interfaith component where reflections on gratitude from various faith-based and philosophical worldviews were placed on the tables along with questions to prompt interfaith dialogue at each table. Thanksgiving dinner + interfaith dialogue = feeding two birds with one scone.

3) Have a conversation with student life staff to put interfaith literacy on their radar.
College students don’t just go to class, as I’m sure you well know. Residence Life, orientation programs, service and diversity offices, campus ministry—these are all facets of campus that have a potential part to play with interfaith literacy on campus. What would it look like, for example, if all RAs had interfaith sensitivity training? Or can you take a page from the University of North Florida’s book and offer an interfaith invocation at each SGA meeting? Incorporating interfaith literacy into these aspects of campus life helps raise it to a visible priority, paving the way to creating a campus norm.

4) Think about where interfaith literacy can be plugged into existing courses.
Even though there’s a whole world beyond coursework for college students, it’s still important to strategize about where interfaith literacy might fit into the classroom. Beyond offering an interfaith lens to theology and religious courses (which is a fantastic idea), there are also opportunities to tuck interfaith literacy into courses in other academic areas or in common-year seminars. For example, many schools have used interfaith texts for common reads. From Diana Eck’s Encountering God to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ, there are many books to choose from that provide fodder for interfaith conversation and literacy (even our own Eboo Patel’s Acts of Faith).

5) What would your campus look like if _____ had interfaith literacy?
There are some parts of your campus that you can identify as being valuable to your work. Fill in the above blank with whatever that facet of your campus is where you can say, “Golly, if these folks got involved, we’d have it made in the shade.” Think about what that would look like more consistently, then reach out to someone to chat about it. In fact, this would be fodder for conversation among a team of people on campus dedicated to interfaith cooperation (interfaith councils, Campus Ministry, etc.).

In Summary...

We’ve only highlighted 5 tactics that we’ve seen work with particular success on various campuses, and there are many other ways this could shake out! The main thing to keep in mind with any of these options (and more) is to keep the following question at the forefront: how will interfaith literacy impact institutional change on campus?