What does it look like to explore one’s Christian identity and engage in interfaith cooperation on secular campuses? Interfaith America is partnering with The Carver Project to launch a new initiative that navigates this question through an 18-month fellowship cohort experience.
Called the Newbigin Fellows program, the initiative will have three cohorts of 8-10 Christian faculty members, known as the Newbigin Interfaith Fellows, over the next three years. Fellows will receive a $4,000 stipend, engage in reflection meetings and in-person convenings, create multimedia content, and host interfaith activities on their campuses as a part of the project.
“We are very excited to partner with The Carver Project on the Newbigin Interfaith Fellows project. We share a commitment to building civic pluralism that values deep faith and welcomes the contributions of religious communities,” says Eboo Patel, president and founder of Interfaith America. “We have convened a group of top scholars in fields from medicine to computer science, economics to English, for rigorous conversation about the challenges and beauty of living out one’s faith commitments in a world of religious diversity.”
Drawing upon the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love, the fellowship aims to empower Christian faculty with the tools and resources to model dialogue and relationships with colleagues, staff, and students of other faiths and of no faith. It also aims to help them learn and understand how to partner effectively and discover common ground in the pluralistic environment in a university and explore why it is an essential prerequisite to implementing these skills and practices in a broader society where the stakes are much higher.
“At both the Carver Project and Newbigin we’re looking for people who affirm the apostle’s creed and are actively engaged in their local church community,” says John Inazu, founder of The Carver Project. “It’s a pretty big tent. It’s going to very diverse —mainline, evangelical, Catholics, Baptist – with a range of cultural and political viewpoints.”
Inazu, who’s also the Sally D. Danforth Distinguished Professor of Law and Religion at Washington University in St. Louis, began the Carver Project when he noticed there was a mutual distrust in non-Christian higher-ed and some churches. He believes that Christian faculty have a unique voice and role to play.
“In higher ed there’s this sense that Christians are these backward people who believe silly things,” says Inazu. “At the same time, at some churches, people believe that higher education is ‘where faith goes to die.’”
Inazu said he wanted to find a way to emphasize the positive upside in both spaces, and to give voice to faculty as “translators between these two realms” and “serve and connect university, church, and society.” So, he met with Patel to collaborate and conceive the Newbigin Fellows program to help these scholars build community and share best practices.
The fellowship is named after theologian Lesslie Newbigin, who was the author of foundational works such as “The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, Proper Confidence” and “The Open Secret.” Newbigin worked on a Christ-centered theology of interfaith engagement as a missionary in South India and later, in his work in a largely de-churched London, and the spirit and goals of the fellowship are largely inspired by his work.
Both Inazu and Patel hope the faculty fellows can serve as resources for their campuses, helping connect students with faith leaders within their communities, and also be a resource for churches and pastors in the communities around the university.
“We talk to pastors all the time who are looking for insights from experts on how to engage their congregations on matters of culture and science and law and art,” Inazu says. “When they identify or find Christian faculty who have these areas of expertise, it’s kind of a breath of fresh air.”
For Ned Gorman, one of the eight fellows of the inaugural cohort, the fellowship program is a space to find a sense of Christian community that goes beyond his local church.
“I joined the program with the hope that it would be an opportunity to connect with people who occupy the same kinds of spaces as I do and that maybe some really good things could come out of our connections with each other,” says Gorman, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “The other thing I really like about the program is that when we meet in person, we’re supposed to bring a ministry partner. It’s a great way for pastors to get a better sense of our worlds.”
Other fellows shared that the program would give them an opportunity to find a way to connect and engage with their students and colleagues in deep honest conversations and help them interrogate how their personal and professional identities intersect.
“I’m a person of faith, a practicing Christian in a secular institution,” says Lydia Dugdale, an Associate Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and Director of the Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. “Should my personal identity be separate from my professional identity? How should each inform the other?”
The Newbigin Fellows program is currently accepting applications for its 2023-25 and 2024-26 cohorts.
Meet the inaugural Newbigin Fellows cohort below.
Carolyn Roncolato and Monique Parsons contributed to this report.
American Civic Life
American Civic Life