Engaging Religions/Building Community: The Strategic Plan for Multifaith at Elon

Interim Report | Spring 2018

The Elon multifaith initiative aims to foster a diverse community of study, dialogue and practice that promotes mutual understanding founded on sustained intellectual inquiry, respect across and within religious traditions and belief systems, and the development of global citizenship. Through its strategic plan for the development of multifaith education and engagement, approved in Spring 2015, the university is developing rich and varied resources to fulfill our vision of encouraging spiritual formation and expression, promoting religious literacy and respect for diverse faith traditions and world views, examining the role of religion in society, and supporting research and scholarship on religion. This initiative at Elon invites broad participation of community members into meaningful engagement, regardless of personal professions of faith, or lack thereof, as a reflection of our commitment to modeling the respectful exchange of ideas and perspectives.

Among leading universities invested in interreligious understanding and dialogue, Elon is distinctive for its commitment to the academic study of religion as a necessary complement to the experiential exploration of religion. This approach recognizes that the public good is served by an informed and educated electorate, that our campus is a healthier academic institution when differences are engaged and discussed rather than smoothed over, and that sophisticated and meaningful multifaith engagement requires study and intellectual discovery as much as good intentions and tolerance.

Elon’s dedication to both multifaith work and the rigorous and honest study of religion is evident in its promotion of dialogue and cooperation among different traditions, the highest quality scholarship on and education about religion, and the spiritual development of all of its community members. Furthermore, the university’s commitment to this multifaith work reflects and honors the university’s historical roots in the United Church of Christ, which value openness, hospitality, freedom of thought, and interfaith dialogue.

The full plan may be viewed here. Below are selected objectives of the plan and an indication of their state of development.

Section 1: Spiritual Formation and Expression:

  • Explore the addition of a summer institute for multifaith leadership, service trips, study abroad opportunities, or national conferences for networking and training.
    • Complete: The Truitt Center now hosts the Ripple Conference, the Southeast’s largest regional interfaith conference for college students as well as staff, the last weekend of every February.
  • Pursue a revision of the weekly Numen Lumen gathering to foster broad intellectual discussion and spiritual community that engages large numbers of students, faculty, and staff through partnerships with units on campus (e.g. academic departments, student life divisions or campus neighborhoods).
    • Complete: Elon’s weekly Numen Lumen gathering has adopted a new format and regularly sees a full Sacred Space on Thursday mornings
  • Develop strategies to further support Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish populations on campus, and identify their roles in Elon’s commitment to religious diversity and Multifaith engagement.
    • In Progress: The Truitt Center has hired new Associate Chaplains for Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic Life and a part time Coordinator of Muslim Life. New policies to support authenticity of expression within these communities are in development.
  • Develop opportunities to connect social justice action and religious commitment.
    • In Progress: The Truitt Center regularly partners with the Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education, the Gender and LGBTQIA Center, and the Religious Studies department on justice-oriented programs.

Section 2: Religious literacy and respect for diverse faith traditions and world-views

  • Create promotional materials and establish a web presence for Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim student, faculty, and staff communities.
    • Complete: Pages for Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, and Buddhist life have been established and are regularly updated.
  • Explore the development of a multifaith scholars program.
  • Explore the possibility of a house or multifaith cluster of housing for religious diversity and other multi-faith communities to offer incentive to students to engage more deeply in learning from one another.
    • Complete: The Mindfully Plural interfaith Living Learning Community (LLC) is located in the Station at Millpoint, housing eight students living in an intentionally multifaith community for religious practice, reflection, programming, and service.
  • Participate in IDEALS (Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey), an instrument developed by Interfaith Youth Core, in order to better understand the nature and extent of our students’ engagement with multifaith issues and to assess our achievement of our long-term goals.
    • Complete: Elon is in its third year ofparticipation; resulting data demonstrates widespread student participation in multifaith programming. IDEALS staff will conduct interviews and focus groups on campus in Spring 2018.
  • Provide opportunities for various segments of the campus and external community to engage with the speakers and/or themes throughout the year.
    • Complete: The Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, the Truitt Center, the Religious Studies department, and other campus partners develop and sponsor programs that feature nationally known speakers, engage current affairs, and foster dialogue and communication about religion, spirituality, and worldview
  • Provide opportunities for Reading circles to engage with an author’s work before he/she speaks on campus.
    • Complete: The Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society sponsors a reading group every semester, often in conjunction with an upcoming speaker or event
  • Develop Classroom modules and materials prepared for instructors by appropriate faculty experts.
    • In Progress: the Religious Studies department and the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society prepare presentations and modules for Core 110 courses and sponsor course development initiatives for the creation or revision of courses for inclusion in the Interreligious Studies minor curriculum

Section 3: Examination of the role of religion in society

  • Develop an inter-religious studies minor that would combine theory and praxis, placing students in contact with local communities through their coursework by means of site visits, research projects, internships and exposure to interreligious conversation.
    • Complete: the Interreligious Studies minor was approved by Curriculum Committee in Spring 2016 and graduated its first student in Spring 2017. Praxis elements will be strengthened through new course development and revision
  • Explore connections between such major events as convocation, the common reading, or other major speakers series, to create a theme around the big questions in multifaith work.
    • In Progress: Religion and worldview issues regularly inform major conversations about campus programming
  • Develop an extra- or co-curricular multifaith curriculum that can be used in residential neighborhoods.
    • In Progress: The Truitt Center is developing a flexible co-curricular module to use with students, staff, and faculty.
  • Establish a program of mini-grants through the CSRCS to support faculty from disparate disciplines in the development of new courses or course modules around topics related to religion and spirituality.
    • In Progress: Course Development grants will be announced by the CSRCS in Spring 2018

Section 4: Research and Scholarship on Religion

  • Establish through the CSRCS and the Office of Undergraduate Research a program of grants and other non-material support for advanced student interdisciplinary research on questions related to religion and its role in society, branded distinctly but awarded through the SURE and SURF programs.
    • Complete: The CSRCS now maintains 2 faculty-mentored undergraduate research programs: The Scholar Development Grant offers 1st- and 2nd-year students an opportunity to lay the groundwork for a long-term project; the Summer Research Fellowship provides more advanced students support for conducting their research in the summer
  • Facilitating collaborations between the School of Communications and other faculty and students to produce video or video shorts to introduce speakers/themes in a given year.
    • In Progress: through collaborations with the School of Communications and the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, videos on Islam and other topics have been produced; videos of many Truitt Center and CSRCS programs are posted on their respective Learning on Demand Channels
  • Explore the feasibility and potential benefits of a scholar-in-residence program to bring new expertise to campus and enhance representation of underrepresented religious groups.
    • In Progress: conversations about a scholar-in-residence program are underway in Spring 2018