From Identity to Community
Monday, May 22nd • 08.30 AM – 12.00 PM
The focus of the Convergence is identity, and how institutions of higher education can better accommodate the diverse elements of identity among students. This session will investigate how these many identities can be validated in their particularity, but might also brought together into a harmonious campus community. Peter Laurence will begin by tracing the history of the interfaith movement and how it strives to bring people together across religious lines. The Education as Transformation Project at Wellesley College grew out of that movement and, in keeping with contemporary developments, also recognized the growing influence of students who characterize themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” The project therefore identified its primary concerns as religious pluralism and spirituality in higher education. Christy Lohr will use her experience at Duke University to explore some recent issues with regard to religious and spiritual life on campus. Sometimes students are challenged to integrate different identity factors into a holistic academic experience, but this is not always the case. What perceptions about religious identity motivate students’ academic choices and learning goals? How do questions of meaning and purpose, of value and ethics intersect with vocational pursuits and aspirations? Do students with a religious orientation feel empowered to integrate this into their academic learning, or does a divide exist between students’ curricular and co-curricular lives? The emerging movement in interreligious studies attempts to challenge assumptions about the divide between Religious Studies and Religious Life and aspires to create benchmarks for interreligious learning across liberal arts fields and disciplines. What does it mean for us to converge? Cody Nielsen will take us past the Education as Transformation moment into the realities of the current research, which has compelled professionals to accept a reality that religious, secular, and spiritual identities matter in significant ways on campus. Cody will look at the emerging identities of students from a variety of traditions, including the rise of the “nones,” a designation of students who claim no particular religious tradition, and who now constitute as much as 50% of the student body, but are extremely diverse in the their own right. Cody will examine the complex relationships possible between institutional religious organizations and the university itself. How can a university and a religious organization work together to promote the mission and vision of the institution and support the campus community? Lastly, Angie Thurston will share her research into emerging spiritual communities across the United States. As a Ministry Innovation Fellow at Harvard Divinity School, Angie focuses on communities of meaning that are attracting rising generations, even as religious disaffiliation continues. She will provide an overview of this landscape, followed by a deep dive into one such community, the Open Master's, which will prompt a conversation about what it means to create learning communities that listen to the soul.