Both college and religion are in the news as I write. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum called Barack Obama’s faith “phony theology” and spoke of campuses as “indoctrination mills.”
Our main partners in interfaith cooperation at Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) are college campuses, and as founder and president I’ve set foot on dozens and worked indirectly with hundreds more. My experience offers a very different perspective than Santorum’s. With the right leadership, curriculum, and activities, campuses are places where people can deepen their faith identities and learn the very American art of interfaith bridge-building. In fact, campuses are environments that can model this interfaith bridge-building for the rest of society, a place where students can learn the knowledge base and skill set of interfaith leadership.
Take the University of Illinois, for instance, where interfaith cooperation has been a priority for the better part of a decade. The student leaders of Interfaith in Action include evangelicals, Jews, humanists, Muslims, and Hindus. Together, they mobilized thousands of volunteers from different traditions to package more than 1 million meals for Haiti in the aftermath of the tragic 2010 earthquake. The group is now coordinating a spring conference that will empower student leaders from around the country to engage people of different faiths and act together on pressing issues such as hunger and homelessness. One of the leaders of the effort, Greg Damhorst, told me he does interfaith organizing because gathering people from different faiths to serve others is one way of living out the command of Jesus to offer comfort to the afflicted.