Arthur Vining Davis Grant Jumpstarts New Interfaith Studies Program
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Arthur Vining Davis Grant Jumpstarts New Interfaith Studies Program

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The Arthur Vining Davis Foundation has awarded a $50,000 grant to support a new Interfaith Studies program at Converse College. The program will include a wide range of interdisciplinary courses to explore aspects of religious diversity and cross-cultural dialogue, culminating in an academic minor, as well as establish a center to sponsor visiting speakers and other public events, travel and research grants for students, and to house resources for teaching, scholarship, and community engagement.

“The importance of informed, cooperative interfaith dialogue is becoming ever more apparent as cultural and religious diversity increases in communities across the United States,” said President Betsy Fleming. “Few academic institutions address explicitly or broadly interfaith fluency and understanding. Converse College is grateful to the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation for supporting an initiative that will have such far-reaching impact.”

“Few academic institutions address explicitly or broadly interfaith fluency and understanding.”

Through internships and service-learning opportunities with area hospitals, hospices, and religious institutions, the program will give particular focus to cultivating interfaith dialogue in medical and counseling contexts, where questions of cultural and religious values and identities can arise most profoundly.

The resource center will house a publication series featuring photojournalism, documentary films, and written contributions devoted to different aspects of interfaith study (including teaching resources, ethnographic explorations, expressions of religious diversity in the region, and tools for facilitating values discussions, end-of-life counseling, and cultural differences).

“Diversity is one of Converse’s seven core values, guiding us to understand and welcome different perspectives, cultures, backgrounds and talents that make up a global society. The Interfaith Studies program will enhance student preparation for interfaith practice in their professions and communities as leaders, educators, managers and scholars,” said Dr. Sherry Fohr, associate professor of religion and co-coordinator of the Interfaith Studies Program.

As Converse’s traditional undergraduate student population has grown over 30% during the past decade, the College has evolved as a dynamic multi-faith community. In recent years, Converse has established The Interfaith Council, a student-led organization, and transitioned to an interfaith Baccalaureate graduation service. With a longstanding history of graduates matriculating to divinity schools and a recent increase in students earning major and minor degrees in Religion and Philosophy, the College deemed it timely and appropriate to develop a comprehensive program that advances the practice of interfaith knowledge and fluency.

“Recent growth and success in religious and cross-cultural studies encouraged this undertaking, and with Spartanburg growing into a vibrant multi-faith community in its own right, this program will position Converse to help bring different congregations into more explicit and collaborative exchange,” said Rev. Jason Loscuito, chaplain to the College, who is guiding the co-curricular component of the program.