Fresh off of winning this year’s $1,500 prize from Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) for the Best Overall Campaign to promote cooperation among students of different religions or no religion at all, Interfaith Allies at CLU is making its presence felt on and beyond campus. In the words of biochemistry and art double-major Shireen Ismail, who is Muslim, the group works “toward human goals that will benefit everyone” on issues from homelessness to water consumption.
The students promote interfaith understanding at monthly dinners and on visits to religious sites. Outside by the flagpoles this fall, seniors Eric Fruth and Wes Tierney (pictured) yelled out trivia questions and passed out books and T-shirts. People can almost always name three pillars of Islam, but not five, said Tierney, an atheist and an officer with the Secular Student Alliance. Passers-by also struggled to identify Hindu religious texts and the seven Roman Catholic sacraments.
In addition to prize money, the national award included three free registrations for CLU students at IFYC leadership institutes. Last year, five students and three faculty members attended with a grant from the Vesper Society.
As part of the winning campaign, the Interfaith Allies joined with other Lutheran universities in the nonprofit organization Water to Thrive’s push to spread awareness about the global water crisis and raise money to build wells in rural Africa. The CLU water-wise campaign culminated with a weeklong challenge to students to track their water use and consumption, drink only tap water, and donate the money they would have spent on other beverages to build a well in Ethiopia.
The students say their issue-oriented goals emerge from discussions about their Mormon, Sikh, secular humanist and other values.
“My personal goal is that deep discussions that have their roots in people’s cultural background and faith tradition, or lack thereof, can happen anywhere…that interfaith discussion becomes a norm on campus,” said Ismail, who spent one morning this fall posting Polaroid photos showing people with whiteboards on which they had written notes about their deepest beliefs. “That’s what I would like to see.”