By Elizabeth Capps
Barton College’s Religion and Philosophy Professor Jane Webster participated in the 2015 Seminar on Teaching Interfaith Understanding in Chicago, from Aug. 2-6.
Webster was selected as one of the 26 participants, out of about 1,000 applicants, all of whom were teachers and scholars from across the United States.
This series of seminars is organized annually by the Council of Independent Colleges as well as the Interfaith Youth Core to help educators broaden their perspectives and strengthen their abilities to teach interfaith understanding.
Over the course of the five-day seminar, participants worked together to find successful ways to educate students on religious diversity in spite of any preconceived notions.
Since courses on religion and philosophy are becoming required in more educational programs, the need for openness and respect for other faiths has become more prominent in the classroom.
Seminar leaders Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, and Laurie Patton, president at Middlebury College, arranged the 26 faculty members into a classroom scenario, where they reviewed case studies in which an interfaith disagreement had occurred.
One case in particular that the group reviewed was of an occurrence at Duke University earlier this year, when the Muslim call to prayer was played over the bell tower speakers at Duke Chapel. This in turn raised considerable controversy on Duke’s campus.
Webster, along with the seminar’s other participants, were asked to brainstorm answers to the question at hand: “What do you do when questions of conflicting faith claims come up against each other?”
Webster recounted having to deal with scenarios involving this conflict in her own classroom, where students of different faiths have concerns about studying or being involved in religious traditions that are not their own.
While in Chicago she had the opportunity to bring forth this in a discussion format, and was able to receive help and wisdom from her fellow colleagues on how to best handle this and similar conflicts in the future.
“I did learn a lot about what I would do in that situation again,” said Webster. “I think I would still want students to engage the other religious tradition out of respect.”
However, what impressed her most was how intrigued her colleagues here at Barton were by her experiences at the seminar. There is a current open discussion about incorporating concepts of “interfaith understanding” in the curricula within the Humanities department.