The Interfaith Leadership Institute Embraces Attendees’ Differences

By Melissa Sersland, February 20, 2019

The event’s training tracks, like  “Foundations of Interfaith Leadership,” “Storytelling for Interfaith Cooperation” and “Tackling Challenging Conversations,” help to facilitate relationship building. Since attendees come to the conference with varying levels of awareness and training in interfaith cooperation, the tracks offer a more tailored experience that connects participants with others who have similar interests and knowledge of interfaith cooperation. Some tracks are open to all, while more advanced tracks require that attendees have attended previous sessions or trainings.

Participants are also able to observe their faith traditions and invite others to join in the event’s Interfaith Room. “Pagan students may opt for an afternoon or evening session and tell others to come by and see what paganism looks like and the diversity in it,” Anderson says. “The Jewish students may have a Shabbat service, and everyone is welcome to join them.”

Fostering conversation

Fostering conversation is a critical component of interfaith cooperation. One way the ILI accomplishes this is through its “Unconference,” a two-hour block of time allocated for participants to speak with one another about topics that are not covered in the training tracks.

Tables are assigned topics suggested to event leadership (the intersection of faith and gender equity is an example). Attendees choose where to sit and can talk about the work being done on their campus and their own interfaith leadership skills. Members of the event training staff serve as facilitators.

The ILI tries to build in downtime so that conversations can take place organically—think corner conversational settings for attendees to use to get to know one another.

According to Anderson, the ILI also takes special interest in providing different constituent groups the opportunity to bring their perspectives in plenary sessions and all participant spaces. “We definitely have an emphasis on unheard voices,” he says. “We’re trying to make sure people who don’t necessarily think they have a voice in this conversation recognize that we want that voice to come forward.”

The trust built through relationships created during the event becomes critical, as some of these perspectives may clash with one another. “You will find a common bridge that you can start a relationship from and build a sense of trust,” Anderson states. “Then when a tense moment comes up, you remember, ‘I really appreciate this person, and I can be an ally.’”

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