Honors Capstone Project
Date of Submission
Thomas V. Wolfe
Arts and Science
Capstone Prize Winner
Won Capstone Funding
Other Religion | Religion
The United States of America is now the most religiously diverse country in the world. Living side by side are not only Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, but Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and people from a multitude of other religious groups as well. However, while Americans inevitably encounter religious diversity every day, very few take the time to engage in it. There is a lot of ignorance surrounding the multitude of religious traditions present in America, and this ignorance can easily lead to fear, hatred, discrimination, and violence.
The course “Exploring Faith Communities in Syracuse” tries to put a stop to this downward spiral by allowing students to learn about different religions as lived human experiences from those who practice them. The course, which was taught at Syracuse University in the fall of 2008 to ten undergraduate students, was centered on visits to different houses of worship every other week. At these houses of worship, the students were met by religious leaders or community members who spoke about the community, gave the students a tour of the building, and explained some of their beliefs, rituals, and practices. These visits were introduced the previous week with lectures and readings providing background information on the faith tradition, and were followed by written reflections and class discussions.
During the semester, the students visited the Society of Friends (Quaker) Meetinghouse, the Conservative Jewish synagogue Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas, the Saint George Macedonian Orthodox Church, Hopps Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the Zen Center of Syracuse Hoen-ji, and the Islamic Society of Central New York. At the end of the semester, each student visited a worship service at a faith community of their choice, and presented their experience to the rest of the class. These visits included a variety of Catholic churches, the Syracuse University student Pagan association SPIRAL, Orthodox and Reform Jewish communities, the Syracuse University Buddhist chaplaincy, and a return visit to the Islamic Society of Central New York. These visits, and the critical reflections that followed, had a very great impact on the students. At the beginning of the semester, many students had only been able to reflect upon our visits in terms of what they did or did not like about each religion. However, by the end of the semester, these students were able to appreciate the value of certain beliefs or practices, even if those beliefs or practices were not ones the students would want to incorporate into their own lives. In addition to their increased appreciation of diversity, the students also became more comfortable speaking to others about religious differences and stepping into the religious worlds of others.
This thesis tells the story of “Exploring Faith Communities in Syracuse” and the students that participated in it. In doing so, it emphasizes the need for interfaith work in America and the impact that intentional interfaith encounters can have. As is clearly shown by the students' reflections, “Exploring Faith Communities in Syracuse” succeeded in increasing interfaith understanding, bringing us one step closer to a society where a multitude of diverse faith traditions can constructively coexist.
Dudley, Rachel, "Exploring Faith Communities in Syracuse" (2009). Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. 433.
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