Interfaith Dialogue, Education, and Action: The IDEA Project – NOT IN USE
As a department of the College, the Campus Christian Center (CCC) exists to serve the larger educational mission of Berea College. In this respect, the Center defines the character of its service and orients its programming around the historic purpose of the College, to promote “the cause of Christ,” through the College’s more focused commitment: “[t]o stimulate understanding of the Christian faith and its many expressions and to emphasize the Christian ethic and the motive of service to others.”
Moreover, the Christian character of the department derives from the Christian identity of the College itself. According to its official statement, The Christian Identity of Berea College, Berea College understands its Christian heritage and its contemporary Christian identity in terms of an inclusive hospitality that welcomes “all peoples of the earth,” students, staff, and faculty of many religious traditions or of no religious tradition, those who “accept Berea College’s core values of impartial love and service to others, whatever their culture, faith or philosophy.”
As a consequence of this important basis for its departmental identity and programs, the Center develops an ecumenical Christian atmosphere and provides education about expressions of Christian faith that engage in healthy, respectful ways with persons from other religious traditions or from no religious tradition. As the Campus Christian Center seeks to fulfill its vision of engendering interfaith and inter-religious education, conversation, and engagement, the Center supports activities and plans programs, through which the department hopes to achieve several aims: (1) to educate students, staff, and faculty about both the many different Christianities and the many different religious traditions and spiritual communities; (2) to engender and cultivate both constructive conversation and harmonious community among members of the College community who have different or no religious commitments; and (3) to engage members of the College community, who may hold very different religious perspectives, in common tasks, toward the shared goals of peace, social justice, and sustainable life, on the basis of the values that inform the mission of Berea College.
Because the Campus Christian Center aims to integrate its larger work into the events, programs, and activities of the entire life of the College community, the Center’s program of Interfaith Dialogue and Education operates similarly. In addition to the various initiatives that the CCC itself envisions, plans, and offers to the academic community, the Center also encourages the development of interfaith initiatives and projects by various departments in the College and groups of students or student religious organizations. The CCC seeks ways by which to encourage an atmosphere of interaction among persons from different religious traditions on campus, in which an emphasis on constructive interfaith and inter-religious engagement pervades all academic areas and considerations of religious issues and phenomena, rather than limiting interfaith dialogue and education to the activities of one department or two departments on campus. The Campus Christian Center implements this facet of its mission and vision in a variety of ways.
On the basis of its departmental self-study in 2000, the Campus Christian Center led the College in developing the Interfaith Council, by working with several departments and student organizations: the Department of Philosophy and Religion, the International Center, the Asian Studies Program, the African and the African-American Studies Program, Campus Life, the Buddhist Student Association, the Jewish Student Association, the Muslim Student Association, and the Pagan Coalition. The Interfaith Council has several goals: to provide opportunities to learn about various religious traditions and communities; to promote dialogue among students, faculty, and staff of different religious perspectives; and to encourage cooperation in common tasks, on the basis of shared values, toward common goals, among the various religious groups on campus. Membership on the Interfaith Council consists of representatives and College sponsors from each participating non-Christian religious group, as well as representatives from the Campus Christian Council and the professional College Chaplains. The Interfaith Council exists alongside, but separately from, the Campus Christian Council. The two councils interact and collaborate in various ways, however, through dialogue, planning events, developing common projects, and addressing common religious needs, concerns, questions, or issues on campus.
Spiritual Seekers: an Interfaith Program
Each week during the academic year, the Campus Christian Center offers an interfaith program known as Spiritual Seekers. On Thursdays at noon, this group gathers for discussion of a presentation by a visiting scholar or speaker, student, or member of the College faculty or staff on some religious topic, issue, or theme of contemporary interest or concern. The topic of discussion might include comparisons of religious traditions to one another on a given issue or topic or might simply relate to one religious tradition only on a given week. These topics often include issues like the concept of jihad and crusade, the nature of prayer, the problem of suffering in world religions, and so forth. The Campus Christian Center provides lunch for those who participate in this program. The Center welcomes persons of all perspectives from any or no religious tradition or community. This program produces lively discussion and attracts a diverse group of students, staff, and faculty each week. Ms. Katherine Basham, Coordinator of Interfaith Programs in partnership with the participants, work together to develop the schedule of topics and speakers each week.
Interfaith Events and Activities
The CCC also plans other special events throughout the academic year that promote interfaith dialogue and education in various ways. Through annual lectureships, special lectures, convocations, and special services of worship and meditation, the department addresses this feature of its mission in the College.
Support of Student Interfaith Activities
The Campus Christian Center also supports a variety of projects, events, and activities that individual students and student religious organizations propose to the department.
Additional Interfaith Support for Students
The Chaplains of the Campus Christian Center offer religious counseling, consultation, and referrals for students with commitments to any religious tradition or community. The staff of the Campus Christian Center welcomes opportunities to work with students of all religious traditions, as they have need for conversation about issues, questions, or projects that relate to religious life and spiritual growth. In addition, the Student Chaplains, who serve in the student residential-life system, have responsibilities to minister to students of all or no religious persuasions, to plan events and offer services that help Christian students in their spiritual development within an academic context, and to plan events or activities that actively promote interfaith dialogue and education.