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New RRC Project for Multifaith Campus Chaplaincy

January 13, 2017

The Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has received a three-year, $425,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to support an innovative program to empower chaplains to enhance multifaith encounters on today’s increasingly diverse, often polarized college campuses.

The program aims to increase the capacities of chaplains of many faiths to nurture and deepen their own moral and spiritual lives; to build relationships with one another; and to encourage productive conversations across differences on college campuses.

The new program, “Campus Chaplaincy for a Multifaith World: Engaging Diversity, Cultivating Connections,” was one of six selected from more than 100 entries in a national competition held by the Luce Fund for Theological Education. This fund supports new models of teaching, learning, research, publication and leadership development.

 

Campus chaplains find themselves in settings in which diversity —race, gender, class, religion and politics—often becomes the subject of fraught encounters or—alternatively—a subject to be avoided. Yet, chaplains, along with other professionals concerned with student life, would like to find ways to take advantage of the setting to create connections and understanding.  Rabbi Justus Baird, dean of Auburn Theological Seminary asked, “Is it right for a Presbyterian chaplain, a Hillel rabbi, a Campus Crusade for Christ staffer, and a Muslim chaplain to wander the same campus for years on end looking for students from their own tribe without ever reflecting on the multifaith nature of the campus they serve?”

“Campus Chaplaincy for a Multifaith World” takes on added urgency in our post-election environment.  Religious minority communities are in a heightened state of anxiety and many people of all faiths are trying to figure out what it means to be engaged citizens in our new, emerging reality.

“Students are exploring who they are and how they can impact the world around them.  As they encounter differences, they need to develop the qualities that allow them to do so with courage and, at the same time, with compassion” explained Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer, Ph.D., who conceived of, and is spearheading, the chaplaincy project. “Chaplains can make their unique contribution by modeling and teaching sacred listening. Each brings to the table spiritual practices that their religious traditions have preserved, practices that help to cultivate generosity of spirit, equanimity, humility.”

The program will ultimately include retreats for 30 campus chaplains representing 15 campuses including Harvard, Tufts University, Princeton University and Vassar College. Webinars and on campus “experiments” will continue the learning between retreats. A parallel network of “field shapers” will share the impact of the project with the broader fields of theological education and chaplaincy training.

Research will be an integral aspect of the project. A team from Brandeis University will conduct case studies on four campuses to examine the impact of various initiatives undertaken by the chaplains. A long term aspiration is to help grow multifaith campus chaplaincy into a field with established credentials, strong networks and ample opportunities for professional development.

The chaplaincy program is an outgrowth of RRC’s groundbreaking “Cultivating Character” model for interfaith engagement, which was also funded by the Luce Foundation. Over the past three years, Rabbi Fuchs Kreimer has developed and grown a model for interfaith engagement that adds to the well-trodden path of text study and theological discussions. In retreat settings, established and emerging religious leaders have shared spiritual practices to facilitate personal and ethical growth. In the process, they have found a powerful entry point to each others’ traditions and have formed deep relationships across differences.

The “Cultivating Character” program has also led to the creation of a four part mini-series, Spirit in Practice (www.rrc.edu/spirit-in-practice),  a multifaith conversation about spiritual practices for seminarians and faith-based activists. Each episode will explore a question brought by emerging religious leaders and seekers, looking for wisdom on how to find the spiritual strength needed to tackle the challenges ahead.  The first episode will feature three guests: an Orthodox Rabbi, David Jaffe, an African American Muslim psychotherapist, Kameelah Rashad, and Roshi, Enkyo O'Hara of the Village Zendo in New York City.

“In today’s fraught environment, these kind of exchanges matter more than ever,” said Kreimer. “While this is a time of uncertainty, some things are already clear. Social justice activism will be more needed than ever. The work we do on the outside depends upon the work we do on the inside. And it is best for us to live into these challenging times together."