Mission, Vision, and History
"With all thy getting, get understanding." This verse from the book of Proverbs graces the Merrill-Cazier Library on our campus and succinctly sums up Utah State University’s mission statement, which is to "cultivate diversity of thought and culture" and to "serve the public through learning, discovery, and engagement."
As a growing body of research suggests, we know that religious identity (or lack thereof) is a crucial component of who our students are. In a recent survey of incoming freshmen, we learned that almost 90% of Utah State University students wanted to be able to talk about their religious (or lack of religious) commitments as part of their university experience, but qualitative research among 160 students, staff, administrators and faculty indicated that almost everyone felt uncomfortable doing so. The USU Interfaith Initiative has emerged to meet this identified need.
The USU Interfaith Initiative provides opportunities to have meaningful conversations about religious (or lack of religious) commitments and why these are an important part of identity for emerging adults. It provides opportunities to meet and interact with those whose religious commitments are different. Through curricular and co-curricular activities and training, and through deepening their understanding about commonly held values shared across faith-lines, the USU Interfaith Initiative provides our students with the knowledge and the necessary tools to build relationships of trust, caring and common interest that will contribute to a more peaceful 21st Century world.
The USU Interfaith Initiative began as a grass-roots effort in the Spring of 2014 to identify resources and to provide tools for sharing authentically about our most closely held religious (or lack-of-religious) commitments, for engaging more productively with those who hold different views than we do and for building community across potential “faith-divides” on our campus. The USU Interfaith Initiative has deep roots and strong ties to multiple units and departments all across campus. We have both curricular and co-curricular programs including the Interfaith Leadership Certificate Program and our amazing Interfaith Student Association. These amazing student leaders plan activities and events to promote interfaith literacy and raise awareness about the importance of interfaith cooperation all throughout the year.
The Religious Studies and Anthropology are two academic units that partner closely with the Interfaith Initiative. Online courses like Anthropology or Religious Studies 1090 (Introduction to Interfaith Leadership) fulfill the General Education Breadth Humanities requirement while serving as an introduction to the Interfaith Leadership Certificate Program. A stand-alone training called the Better Together Interfaith Ally Training Program, developed and offered by Professor Bonnie Glass-Coffin and modified from a faceo-to-face to a Zoom format during these challengings times of COVID-19 builds capacity for authentic sharing and appreciative interaction.
An Interfaith Advisory Council with representatives from both campus and community stakeholder groups helps to coordinate the many curricular and co-curricular elements of the USU Interfaith Initiative.
Our work is wholly supported by tax deductible contributions from our allies and friends. To make a contribution, visit the Interfaith Initiative giving link.
What is Interfaith Cooperation and why is it important?
We live in an increasingly diverse religious landscape (both nationally and internationally). This diversity often leads to conflict because of stereotypes, misunderstanding, negative assumptions, and outright fear of religious “Others.” Interfaith cooperation is about more than “tolerance” of religious difference. Instead, it is a call to action, entreating us to engage with others of differing faith traditions constructively—because rather than in-spite of, our beliefs.
During the American Civil Rights Movement, for example, Christian leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Jewish leaders like Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel both drew inspiration from a Hindu concept of non-violent resistance that Mahatma Gandhi embodied and enacted decades before to overthrow British rule in India. Because of shared values like mercy, compassion, kindness, service, and hospitality, these leaders of very different traditions came together to fight racial injustice and inequality. Similarly, the legacy of our American story is one of Jews, Christians, Deists, and Atheists coming together in the name of religious freedom to create a new nation — on common ground with the common values of liberty and justice for all.
Interfaith cooperation is thus synonymous with what Interfaith leaders and advocates like Dr. Diana Eck (Founder and Director of Harvard University’s Religious Pluralism Project) and Dr. Eboo Patel (Founder and Director of Interfaith Youth Core) describe as “religious pluralism.” It requires us to become aware of how religious beliefs, values, and practices contribute to a more just and civil society. To learn more about the importance of religious literacy and interfaith cooperation in today's world, visit the Religion Communicators Council.
American colleges and universitites are recognizing the immense value of providing students with the vision, appreciative knowledge, and skills to become interfaith leaders in the 21st century. According to Nancy Cable, President of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation, this work is life-changing, both for our students and for the environment in which we find ourselves. The USU Interfaith Initiative trains students to become interfaith leaders and supports "whole person" expression and learning through our many curricular and co-curricular initiatives.
Interfaith cooperation is not the same as religious relativism and it doesn’t gloss over our religious differences. It does not mean abandoning our truth claims or giving up our faith-based allegiance to whatever doctrines or explanations about the world best guide us. It just requires that we open to the best of one another, that we acknowledge and respect our differences and our common humanity. So, when we’re engaging in interfaith dialogue, we don’t use this space to proselytize or to evangelize, even if that is an important part of our religious tradition. Instead, interfaith dialogue focuses our attention on the values that we share and how these compel us to act in service to a better world. While the focus of our work is on building capacity for positive interaction among people of differing religious world views, there is lots of great information about religious belief and practice that can help you increase your religious literacy. The Harvard Pluralism Project's Religions page is a great place to start your exploration! We also recommend the Wabash Center for a great compilation of religion references. For a really "quick" overview of religious diversity of belief and practice, many have found the Religion Facts website useful as well (although we recommend caution interpreting any site that collapses entire religious traditions into a few bullet points).