American Civic Life

Take the Foundations of Interfaith Course with Other Interfaith Leaders 

By Gracie Webb
(blackCAT/Getty Images)

(blackCAT/Getty Images)

What is interfaith leadership? How does one build and develop an interfaith skill set?  Make a meaningful impact in your community with skills learned at Foundations of Interfaith Leadership LIVE. Presented in partnership with Interfaith Philadelphia, this certificate course takes place virtually once a week for six weeks with a cohort of other passionate interfaith leaders from across the country.

Paulina Thurmann

Past learners include Paulina Thurmann, an educator from Seattle who took the course last fall and found immense value in being in the Foundations LIVE virtual classroom: “To be in a room that’s so accepting and so gracious, to be able to offer feedback openly in a safe space, you just don’t come across that every day.” Dr. Lorie A. Kittendorf, who works for the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at The University of Tampa, shares below why she signed up for the course, what practical lessons she learned, and how she’s implementing the course into her personal and professional work. 

“Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) have become integral components of higher education institutions in today’s increasingly interconnected world. The University of Tampa, like many universities, recognizes the importance of fostering an inclusive environment for its diverse student body. 

With my role in the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, I was asked to be a part of the University’s Resource Team for Faith, Values, and Spirituality. We are a non-religiously affiliated institution that houses a beautiful chapel and has a variety of active organizations for religiously affiliated students. I knew that it was important for me to step into this team equipped with the knowledge, skills, empathy, self awareness, and personal connections that would allow me to think more broadly about the students, faculty and staff we serve and how spirituality impacts various facets of our lives. 

The Foundations of Interfaith Leadership certificate not only equips professionals with the tools to navigate religious diversity but also facilitates a broader understanding of inclusion, empathy, and cultural awareness. Interfaith leadership is a multidimensional concept that goes beyond mere religious tolerance. It involves understanding and respecting various religious and spiritual traditions while also fostering dialogue and collaboration among them. It also requires participants to confront their own biases and preconceived notions, leading to personal growth and self-awareness.   

I now take the time to pause, listen, and make space for others to share the lessons, stories, and traditions of their faith.

Understanding the nuances of different faiths allows university administrators to appreciate the unique perspectives and needs of various religious communities and how university policies and practices may need to be reviewed to create more inclusivity, support, and awareness. This is essential for creating an environment where students of all backgrounds feel welcomed and valued, especially when religious and spiritual traditions are often intertwined with a culture’s history and heritage, and are core to fostering a sense of identity, unity, and community. 

As a result, as an institution we have expanded the content for the Spiritual Wellness website, reviewed and updated the university policy on absences as it relates to religious observances, added a link to a Holy Days calendar, and developed a Religious Observance Letter that students can use at the beginning of each term to notify faculty of upcoming absences. We have also added a question regarding religion/spirituality to a Belonging Survey that we launched this year as a way to have a better understanding of the identities that students hold and ensure that we are creating the spaces and sharing the resources to honor those identities. 

On a personal level, it has helped me to be a more open-minded and resilient individual who is better equipped to navigate the complexities of our diverse and interconnected world, both in my personal life and in my professional interactions with others. Prior to this course, I had never taken the time to think about my own spiritual journey and the moments, people, customs, and traditions that shaped my spiritual perspectives. I now take the time to pause, listen, and make space for others to share the lessons, stories, and traditions of their faith, and it’s amazing how such a simple question can reveal so much of a personal journey and create the interpersonal connection points that lead to more inclusive and interconnected networks.”