In 2019 the Pew Research Center conducted a study looking at the causes of religious polarization. The study found that those who have personal contact with individuals from a specific religious group also had higher positive sentiment towards that religious group. As a result, one way to mitigate polarization and to increase prosocial relations across religious divides, is simply to provide ways for individuals from different faith communities to get to know each other.
Hillel International, the largest pluralistic Jewish campus organization in the world, aims to foster just this sort of interfaith engagement by bringing students from different faith communities together on campuses. Hillel’s outreach work is carried out through its Center for Community Outreach which, in the last academic year alone, engaged nearly 140,000 students at least one time and 54,000 students six or more times through participation in a high impact immersive experiences. The Center’s work helps Hillel chapters broaden their networks on campus, engage students across campus life in dialogue and educational programming and strengthen the social fabric of their campus communities. More importantly, these experiences will inform the values that students hold and ultimately lead with as they graduate and enter into the workforce and their communities.
Beginning in 2021, the Center will launch a new effort to build active interfaith partnerships across campus communities. The project has three major components: (1) training for Hillel campus personnel, (2) training for student leaders in Hillel chapters, and (3) a competitive, sub-granting program to provide funds for individual chapters to carry out interfaith campus activities. A grant from AVDF for $150,000 will support the third of these three components.
Sub-grants will support individual chapters to engage students from other campus religious groups in ways that fit the needs and interests of their local community. These might include joint dinner discussions, speaker series, reading group, outreach activities in the local community, and more besides.
AVDF’s president, Dr. Michael Murray, said of the project: “We are pleased to be able to support Hillel’s work to build bridges between student campus religious groups. We hope that this will be the first of many efforts on campus to build understanding, empathy, and friendships across lines of religious difference.”