Tensions among people from different religious communities -- stemming from differing beliefs, from distinct perspectives, and from misunderstandings -- have contributed to increased levels of political violence and terrorism around the world. In turn, the justification of violence and terrorist acts taken in the name of religion has served to intensify the tensions among and across groups. Such circumstances create the potential for a vicious cycle of hostility between groups and individual members of groups. The Campus Dialogues Project is designed to support the development, implementation, and refinement of programs aimed at reducing intergroup tensions among university students of different religions in the United States. The project focuses on affecting the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of university students in an effort to help foster at an early age habits of intergroup acceptance and cooperation among future leaders and decision-makers.
This program supports a range of activities designed to decrease biases among students from different religious traditions, and to train facilitators at each campus who will support these programs. Programs include retreats involving students from different faith traditions, dinner series for campus leaders from different religious communities, collaborative community-service projects, and development of multimedia arts programs focused on fostering respect for different traditions. Extensive evaluations were conducted for each campus program in order to assess program impact on participating individuals and on the broader campus communities, and to identify key process characteristics in programs that influence the effect of the programs. Finally, the lessons learned throughout this project about how to design and deliver programs that enhance understanding and foster constructive cooperation will be systematically disseminated to college campuses across the country.
The project was designed to support the development, implementation, and refinement of programs that reduce intergroup tensions among university students of different religions. It focused on the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of students in an effort to help foster habits of intergroup acceptance and cooperation among future leaders and decision makers. The goal was also to disseminate a model of reproducible programs to other campuses. Five campuses participated in the program: Tufts, Brandeis, Wellesley, MIT, and Maryland. The major Campus Dialogue (CD) activities in the five campuses were conducted throughout the academic year and generally consisted (as planned) of weekly or bi-weekly meetings of a group (or several groups) of 10-30 students from different faiths for facilitated dialogues, and included discussions and group study of interfaith issues. All five participating campuses achieved a good volume, consistency, continuity and frequency of this CD activity. Also wider campus outreach activities, generated by the leaders and/or the students/participants of the CD project were conducted on all five campuses. Evaluation data indicates the importance of the substantial volume of interfaith outreach activities that were generated by the CD projects in the different campuses and involved the wider campus/ community in inter-religious dialogue. Evaluation findings indicate that the projects on the five participating campuses led to systematic and consistent interfaith activities during the relevant school years with good participation of Jewish, Christian, Muslim (and other) students. Students/participants as well as the directors, coordinators and facilitators of the project were highly satisfied with the CD project. The interfaith activities were perceived as especially effective in the following aspects that represent important goals of the CD project at large:
- Creating positive interfaith contact, interaction, and friendships
- Increasing interfaith understanding and tolerance
- Increasing knowledge about different faiths
- Generating interfaith activities involving the wider campus/community.
Methodology consisted of the development of group activities on each of the five campuses designed to foster interfaith dialogue, with the methods adapted to the particular culture of the campus involved. In addition, a conference activity was held for all the five campuses, which included speakers, workshops, and dialogues, as well as the establishment of a project website to help disseminate the results of the efforts on each campus.