Interfaith relations groups are becoming more prevalent, especially on college campuses.
An Intermountain West Interfaith Leadership Lab was held on April 20 and 21 at Utah State University to train college students how to lead interfaith groups. Ellie Thompson, program specialist for Utah Campus Compact and board member of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, wrote about the lab’s mission in Deseret News.
“We invite students … to voice their deeply held beliefs, ethics and convictions, whether religious or secular,” Thompson wrote. “Then, (we invite them to) engage with those who orient around religion differently than themselves and act toward a need in the community with an unlikely partner.”
The lab was inspired by the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization founded on the premise that young people can have a positive impact on pressing issues of local and global concern through interfaith cooperation.
Daniel Carvajal, a sophomore studying mechanical engineering at BYU-Idaho, said having an interfaith group on campus could be beneficial.
“It would definitely build understanding of other people’s faith or background, so it might be useful for those that are grounded in their understanding of the Church if they want to understand how to reach out better to people,” Carvajal said.
In an attempt to spread their vision, IFYC is reaching out to college campuses which, they believe, have the potential to lead the interfaith movement in society, according to its website.
“We believe that American college students, supported by their campuses, can be the interfaith leaders needed to make religion a bridge and not a barrier,” according to IFYC.
Michael Abel, a sociology professor at BYU-I, said there is value in learning about the religions and beliefs of the world.
“It is important that we come to understand the perspectives of others, especially the religious perspectives,” Abel said. “Not only will we realize that what others believe is in many ways very similar to our own beliefs, but we will also acquire the tools we need to have interactions with other people without being defensive and without being threatened.”
IFYC has commissioned itself with the mission to bring people closer together and to help them become more familiar with the beliefs of others by making interfaith cooperation a social norm, according to pluralism.org.
“Too often, religion is seen as a barrier of division,” IFYC posted on its website. “(We believe) people of all faiths and secular traditions can build a bridge of cooperation, strengthening our civil society and promoting common good for all.”
Daniel Magleby, a professor of the Department of Teacher Education, said the principle of understanding others is good and learning about them is great, but we should seek to anchor ourselves first.
“I think there’s a progression, and I believe we may make a mistake of skipping the ‘I’ step,” Magleby said. “The ‘I’ step is: I am confident in my own belief system, and I’m confident in my own understanding.”
Abel emphasized how a few courses offered at BYU-I can contribute greatly to our understanding of other faiths, but extracurricular activities could potentially add more.
“I took a world religions (class) at BYU-Provo when I was a student, and it totally helped me understand where others are coming from, and I gained a great appreciation I didn’t have before for a lot of other religions,” Abel said. “That class is very beneficial and accomplishes a lot, but it is also a good idea to sit down with a member of another religion and just say ‘Hey, tell me about what you guys believe and why you do what you do.’ ”
Spencer Trautman, a freshman majoring in marriage and family studies, said he thinks students could gain valuable experience from an interfaith group.
“In a course, we can learn and understand (other beliefs), but we won’t necessarily experience (them),” Trautman said. “But, if interfaith (groups were) brought here on campus, it would give us more opportunities to experience what would be taught in the course rather than just hear about it.”
As a senior project, Tiffany Osborn, a BYU-I alumna, started an organization promoting interfaith relations called Closed2Close, which shares the mission of bringing people of differing beliefs closer together, according to Closed2Closed Website. Osborn told Scroll how much she would have liked to have participated in an interfaith group, while still in school.
“There is a religious freedom class on campus which is helpful, but I think sometimes it focuses more on the theoretical portion of (religious freedom),” Osborn said. “I think a group would be able to have action items that would enable them to make a lasting difference, which I think would be a huge motivation for those involved because often we learn about it, and we’re passionate about it, but it is difficult to find an outlet wherein we can be productive and make meaningful changes in our area and around the world.”