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Secular Students in Interfaith Settings


Interfaith is a hot trend on college campuses right now. Universities, colleges and even high schools are focusing more and more on multiculturalism, diversity and inclusiveness, and this idea of bringing together individuals of differing worldviews to participate in everything from dialogues to massive service projects is catching on like wildfire. Many of these programs have extended an invitation to secular students - and secular students are figuring out how best to respond and/or engage with this new trend.

Whether you are enthusiastic about interfaith projects and looking for ways to get involved, need to convince other members of your group to get on board, or have serious reservations about participating, we hope we can provide assistance and guidance through this page. It's a work in progress, so check back often as we're adding new resources!

Quick Links: Why Get Involved, Ways to Get Involved, Resources, Special Consideration

Why Secular Students Should Get Involved

Why We Should Get Involved in Interfaith

SSA Director of Campus Organizing Lyz Liddell provides a purely pragmatic explanation of the material and political benefits of secular students getting involved with interfaith programs. You won't find high-minded ideological reasoning here - just compelling, practical reasons.

Should the Nonreligious Join in Interfaith Work?

Chris Stedman is author of the blog NonProphet Status and Managing Director of State of Formation for The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue, with experience with the Interfaith Youth Core and the Humanist Chaplaincy at Harvard University. In this article, he provides a more ideologically-based call to interfaith action. A longer read, but if you need reasons that you can feel good about, this is the place.

Bridging the Divide: Cooperating on Service Projects with Religious Organizations on Your Campus

Nate Mauger, member of the SSA Board of Directors, delivers a compelling presentation on the benefits his campus group gained from cooperating with a religious campus group for a week-long spring break service trip in New Orleans.

Why Interfaith Is Not Enough

Frank Bellamy cautions secularists to avoid the trap of thinking of interfaith service as a cure-all for either our image problem or the real problems in the world, and provides alternate (or additional) ways students can work to improve our society.

Ways Your Group Can Get Involved 

Working with the White House

The White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships has been working over the past two years to encourage interfaith community service. They are currently in the second year of the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge: a drive to engage college campuses from the top administration down in to participate in year-long interfaith community service projects. The White House has been very specific about their desire to include secular students in these projects, and so we've been encouraging our affiliates to approach their administrations and get involved with the programs that show up on their campuses.

Greg Epstein, the Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University, wrote a great article on why non-believers should get involved in this program. You can check that out here. 

Interfaith Youth Core

The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) is an organization dedicated to promoting interfaith cooperation among college students. In the past year, they have become increasingly welcoming to secular students and have included us in several of their more recent projects.

IFYC has a program called "Better Together" which encourages the formation of campus campaigns dedicated to interfaith service projects. You can download a toolkit or get connected with a campaign near you. "Like" their Facebook page to receive ongoing updates to the Better Together Campaign.

IFYC provides additional resources for interfaith programming, including the Interfaith Leadership Institute (a training program for student leaders), and programs for campus faculty and staff. They currently have a special section dedicated to the President's Challenge.

Engaging Secular Students in Interfaith Cooperation. Co-written by staff at the Secular Student Alliance and IFYC, this resource offers strategies for engaging secular individuals in interfaith work. Utilizing examples and knowledge from both organizations, the tips offer practical methods for building inclusive interfaith organizations.


Project Interfaith

Project Interfaith grows understanding, respect and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures by offering innovative programs, products, and services that empower open, respectful learning and conversation. Their Ravel/Unravel Campaign is a way to build a stronger bridge of interfaith literacy. Check out an intro video to the campaign and the current list of campaigns.

Ravel/Unravel Campaigns allows for users to run their own video campaign in their communities and social networks using the Ravel/Unravel questions, a discussion guide for campaign participants, and the Ravel/Unravel site. Feel free to download the instructional flyer on how to create a campaign.

Best Practices for Interfaith Work

A follow-up to his article on why the nonreligious should get involved in interfaith work, Chris Stedman provides a resource that aims to address potential problems that could come up for nonreligious individuals engaging in interfaith work, offer some best practices, lay out some special recommendations for nonreligious interfaith practitioners, and provide some examples of nonreligious interfaith work.

Service Projects and Trips: Guides and Advice

The Secular Student Alliance has an activity packet on how to recreate a week-long spring break service trip. An event like this, partnering with one or more religious organizations, offers an opportunity for dialogue, understanding and cooperation between groups of differing worldviews. Nate Mauger, member of the SSA Board of Directors  gave a great presentation on his experiences on service trips with advice and recommendations for doing your own - watch it on YouTube!

Other Interfaith Resources 

Interfaith Youth Core Online Resources.

There is a comprehensive list of resources from the Interfaith Youth Core found on their resources page. The resources are organized seperately for students, staff/administrators and faculty. You have to register (with an email) to download the resources. You'll probably need cookies enabled as well.

Developing a Theological or Ethical basis for Interfaith Cooperation

The Interfaith Youth Core developed a great resource on tying in one's own theology or ethical philosophy into why they practice interfaith cooperation. The purpose of this resource is to further strengthen the pluralistic basis for interfaith by narrating a mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive basis for persons of different spiritual identities. The perspectives represented are: Christian, Islamic, Humanist, Jewish, Hindu & Sikh. 

Better Together Campaign

Can’t make it to the Interfaith Leadership Institutes? They have all the toolkits and resources you can imagine on the Better Together website. Start out by downloading the Better Together Quickstart at ifyc.org/bettertogether. Connect with other organizers and Better Together Coaches – seasoned interfaith leaders who have run Better Together and are ready to answer your questions – on Facebook at: Facebook.com/WeAreBetterTogether

Download their From Story to Action resource: http://bit.ly/TVrwbC

IFYC has a vibrant and active community online – connect with them to get news and updates from the interfaith movement: Follow us on Twitter @ifyc, visit us at ifyc.org or find us on Facebook.

NonProphet Status is a place where a multitude of voices help define a new narrative for the secular community, one that respects the religious identities of others while remaining authentic to our own identities: nonprophetstatus.com

State of Formation features emerging voices in interreligious dialogue who draw upon their academic and community work and reflect on the pressing questions of a religiously pluralistic society: stateofformation.org

The Pluralism Project helps Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources: pluralism.org

The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions cultivates harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities: parliamentofreligions.org

Values in Action at the Humanist Community at Harvard is the first ever interfaith and community service civic engagement initiative based out of a Humanist or nontheistic organization, and serves as a resource for others who wish to learn more about atheist-led interfaith service work: harvardhumanist.org

Special Considerations 

Preventing Misunderstandings of Atheism in Interfaith Settings

Lewis Marshall is the president of AHA! @ Stanford University. In the spring of 2009, Lewis and his group applied to become a member of the Stanford Associated Religions (SAR). As one might expect, his group's membership had some reservations about being defined as a religion. This article explains how the group handled the potential for serious misunderstanding. Lewis also has a guest post on NonProphet Status explaining the situation. You can also read the group's Memorandum of Understanding, which they provided as part of the SAR application.

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