Engagement between people who orient around religion differently is a key trait of Interfaith and Interreligious Studies courses. While instructors use academic texts to introduce and analyze interreligious encounter, learning through engagement—which can be exemplified by experiential learning activities or other active learning pedagogies—can bring to life some of the concepts that students learn in the classroom. These types of learning opportunities come in many forms; they range from robust, longer-term undertakings (such as internships and service learning programs) to more accessible, one-off projects (such as site visits and interview assignments). Created in partnership with college and university faculty across the country, this resource highlights seven ways that scholars and educators have integrated experiential and engaged learning opportunities into courses that explore religious diversity:
- Service Learning
- Travel Seminars + Multi-Day Field Trips
- Site Visits
- Classroom Visitors
- Interview Assignments
- Case Studies + Role-Play Exercises
Internships can offer students the opportunity to translate what they study in the classroom into community and professional settings. Faith-based organizations, organizations and companies seeking to tackle religious diversity, or interfaith non-profits can all provide fruitful internship opportunities that further student learning. Because internships often take place in professional settings, students receive beneficial experiences that they can list on their resumes, further connecting interfaith skills and competencies to their own professional goals. Colleges and universities approach internship programs in various ways, sometimes offering course credit. Students not receiving credit may be compensated in other ways, such as certified volunteer hours or even payment for their work.
Example from the Field
Professor Sarah Gagnebin created an interfaith-focused internship course at California State University, Chico, where students work for a local interfaith organization—such as the Chico Area Interfaith Council, the Center for the Public Understanding of Religion, or the California Pluralism Project—for a full semester. Students typically spend about 9 hours per week conducting fieldwork, meeting with their internship coordinator, and completing assigned readings and written work. At the end of the semester, student interns develop and execute a plan that focuses on improved interreligious competency for the organization and/or its constituents (i.e. a training module or workshop, web resources, or a community dialogue event).
Service learning (also referred to as experiential learning or community engagement) offers similar benefits to internship experiences, insofar as students can build relationships with an organization and come to understand some of the real-world applications of their classroom training. In interfaith-focused courses, students are often asked to partner with a community organization or non-profit that is housed within a religious or philosophical tradition, such as a Christian homeless shelter or a Buddhist meditation and community center. While this may be a semester-long commitment for students, it may not require as many hours—or be as rigorous—as an internship experience. Service learning requirements are often made possible by partnerships that professors or college/university staff make within the community, and in this regard can create a beneficial campus-community relationship.
Example from the Field
As part of his “Interreligious Encounter” course at the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN), Dr. Hans Gustafson asks students to complete 15+ hours of service for a chosen community partner. Service opportunities include volunteering at a local Jewish senior and assisted living center, tutoring elementary students at a Muslim after-school program, or working with teens at a local interfaith organization. When their service requirement is complete, students write reflection papers that integrate classroom readings with their experiences in the community.