Elon University adopts new Multifaith Strategic Plan

The plan will broaden and deepen the university’s commitment to multifaith understanding and to preparing Elon graduates to navigate a complex and diverse world.

Elon University has adopted a new Multifaith Strategic Plan that builds upon a strong foundation of multifaith education at the university by broadening and deepening opportunities for students, faculty and staff to expand their understanding of different religions, values, belief systems and ways of life.

The plan details specific objectives and initiatives for the university to undertake that are designed to increase diversity within the university community, make Elon a more equitable and inclusive campus and community, introduce new opportunities for multifaith engagement and demonstrate the importance of multifaith learning.

The plan is the work of the Multifaith Strategic Planning Committee, which was formed to help achieve broader university goals outlined in Boldly Elon, the university’s 10-year strategic plan that was adopted in 2020. It enhances and expands many of the multifaith initiatives launched during The Elon Commitment, the university’s strategic plan spanning 2010 to 2020.

“Elon is already a recognized national leader in multifaith education and community engagement around these issues,” said Professor Brian Pennington, director of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society, and planning committee co-chair. “The infrastructure established through The Elon Commitment will now provide a foundation for offering further support to students, faculty and staff as they engage with these issues.”

Guided by The Elon Commitment, the university established a focus on multifaith understanding and education that included the creation of the Numen Lumen Pavilion, which is home to the Truitt Center for Religion and Spiritual Life, as well as the establishment of the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society. The university’s 2015-20 multifaith strategic plan, “Engaging Religion/Building Community,” resulted in the creation of the Multifaith Scholars program, the student-led Ripple Interfaith Conference and the Interreligious Studies minor.

The Multifaith Strategic Planning Committee is chaired by Pennington, Vice President and Associate Provost for Inclusive Excellence Randy Williams, University Chaplain and Dean of Multifaith Engagement Kirstin Boswell and Associate Professor Geoffrey Claussen, who chairs the Department of Religious Studies. The team was tasked with creating a plan that expands opportunities for multifaith engagement and education across campus, and will lead its implementation and provide support to these efforts.

The goals outlined in the plan will be championed by the implementation team, with much of the work being undertaken by a broad range of campus partners who will be key to achieving a deeper commitment to multifaith work and opening up new multifaith opportunities across campus.

“Elon is ripe for this, not just because of the content, but also the climate for supporting this type of work,” Williams said. “There is readiness for this work. We’re going to build upon the achievements of the previous plan with work that’s relative to this day and time.”

The plan sets out four broad strategic goals that are in alignment with the university’s Boldly Elon Strategic Plan:

  • Goal One: Make Elon a more religiously diverse campus and community
  • Goal Two: Make Elon a more equitable and inclusive campus and community
  • Goal Three: Support opportunities for multifaith learning and engagement for all members of the Elon academic community
  • Goal Four: Articulate the value and importance of multifaith learning as well as multifaith diversity, equity and inclusion for all constituents

Under Goal One, the university seeks to triple the number of Muslim students and significantly increase the number of other underrepresented religious populations at Elon. That will be accomplished by developing recruitment and employment practices that contribute to a learning and working environment that has a diversity of viewpoints.

The plan incorporates research into the campus community that included a survey of students, faculty and staff that found that along with those who do identify with a specific religious faith, there is a sizable segment who are spiritual but not religious, or agnostic or atheist, Pennington said. That reflects a national shift and underscores the need to incorporate those views into multifaith efforts as well, he said.

“We have to remember that a huge part of the student experience is what students learn from one another — from those who are in their classes, in their dormitories and in the dining halls with them,” Pennington said. “Diversifying our community in these ways opens us all up to a range of ethical viewpoints and backgrounds, a range of ideas about the importance and centrality of things like spirituality and religion, a range of student experience drawn from different types of backgrounds. That makes us better and it prepares our students for engaging a rapidly diversifying and globalizing world.”

Goal Two details a range of initiatives designed to create a campus environment where students, faculty, and staff report experiencing belonging, welcome, inclusion, safety and feeling understood at higher levels than they currently do.
“Ideally, every member of our community should feel welcomed, understood, and supported — a sense of deep and multilayered belonging — while at Elon,” Boswell said. “Although we know that we have some work to do to get to that point, the plan gives us a roadmap.”

For instance, the university will be working to ensure that its diversity, equity and inclusion efforts are attentive to religious, spiritual and secular identities. Elon will be examining its observance of religious holidays to ensure they reflect a diverse student and employee community, and will be strengthening the capacity of Elon Dining to accommodate diverse dietary needs. Elon will assess current practices, events and spaces to determine whether they promote an inclusive and welcoming environment and experience.

“In today’s increasingly polarized society, it is more important than ever that we work to ensure that our policies, procedures, programs, language, symbols and spaces are equipped to engage the multi-layered identities that we all hold,” Boswell said. “Elon has been a national leader in this work of uplifting the diversity of religious, spiritual, ethical and philosophical frameworks. However, we know that as Elon continues to grow and change to meet the demands of our global society, it is necessary for us to expand our commitment to the support and understanding of diversity in all its forms. It is our moral responsibility, and it is work that we take seriously as an institution.”

Within Goal Three lies an emphasis on expanding the number of students, faculty and staff who are engaging with multifaith learning at Elon and on developing new frameworks with local and global partners to enhance student engagement around multifaith learning. These efforts are not just focused on the undergraduate experience, will also impact students in graduate and professional programs across campus.

The goal includes new initiatives in the areas of research and engaged learning, including the development of new short-term study away programs, new internship opportunities, new cocurricular experiences and new connections between the campus and community leaders and organizations. The plan calls for developing new paths for supporting student research on religion at the undergraduate and graduate levels, with new models for impactful mentorship experiences for students. The university will assess and expand support for Elon’s signature degree programs for multifaith education, such as those in religious studies, interreligious studies, Jewish studies and Islamic studies.

“Elon is a national leader in engaging students on questions related to the category of religion, and we are excited to build on our success during the years to come,” Claussen said. “We look forward to new opportunities for students to think critically about religious, spiritual, and secular frameworks at work in the world as well as in their own lives.”

The final goal focuses in on ensuring robust information about these efforts, initiatives and opportunities is flowing between stakeholders and the Office of University Communications so that the university may implement a comprehensive multifaith communications and marketing strategy.

“These efforts help us accomplish the goal of sending our graduates out into the world with greater perspectives that will inform how they interact and behave with others so that they will be much more just and inclusive,” Williams said. “As faculty and staff, we have to be able to nurture and develop those expanding perspectives across differences as it relates to multifaith.”

The primary campus partners and stakeholders for Elon’s multifaith work to implement the goals of the strategic plan will be the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, the Department of Religious Studies, the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society and the Division of Inclusive Excellence. While those four entities will be leading the efforts, they will be collaborating with schools, offices and committees across campus.

“I think plans like this are about building structures to encourage culture shifts,” Pennington said. “A plan like this one is about establishing the conditions for us to be talking to one another more and sharing honestly, learning in deliberate and deliberative ways from one another. That’s the Elon I would like to see develop in this plan.”