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Why Interfaith?


The University of Wisconsin-Madison is proud to participate in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

Improving relationships between adherents of different faiths as well as between believers and non-believers cries for public attention. Religion is hardly the only cause of conflict among people, but examples of its capacity to divide and harm are too blatant to need citation. Nevertheless, it also harbors great potential to stir the better angels of human nature. Whether religion (or no religion) actually does foster good or ill does not inhere in scripture, doctrine or ritual per se but rather in how individuals in specific settings understand their faith’s values and choose to live them in the company of others.

Religious beliefs are usually taught in homogeneous settings like families and congregations, but the consequences of those beliefs play out dynamically—and often unthinkingly—in heterogeneous milieus like polling booths, marketplaces, and streets. The President’s Challenge directs itself specifically to colleges and universities, places habituated to exploring and critically examining ideas, under the theory that campuses can serve effectively as proving grounds for activities that model and build interfaith relationships beneficial to civil society.

Responding to the Challenge involves enlisting individuals from the entire spectrum of belief and non-belief in a range of activities such as public service projects, forums, social justice workshops, lectures and art shows, not to mention courses. The goal is to model through experience the ways in which students in the world’s most religiously plural republic can work cooperatively even while holding different beliefs so that, as citizens, they can engage with each other intelligently, purposefully, and respectfully.

Initiated through the White House Office for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, the Challenge fits perfectly within the Wisconsin Idea: the dedicated application of scholarship and teaching to public service and civic engagement. We at UW-Madison are especially pleased to help represent large-scale public, research academies in which religious adherence normally plays no formal role in the curriculum but whose teeming populations do not shed their religious identities at matriculation.

In a globalized world, interfaith cooperation is neither a luxury nor a frivolity but a necessity. UW-Madison accepts the President’s Challenge in this spirit.