REL 332: Interfaith Service and Theory

Instructors: Professors Bruce Rosenstock and Robert McKim


Course Description and Procedures

This course is required for the Interfaith Studies Certificate in the Department of Religion.  It is designed for students seeking the Certificate though other students may enroll if there is space.  Central to this course is service throughout a semester with a partner organization.  This service might take the form of an internship or volunteer work, or engagement in service learning, or work on solving practical problems, with a focus on interfaith contexts.  Students will select and define their own projects in cooperation with the instructor.  Because this is a small-enrollment class and students in the internship need to have a maximally flexible schedule, meetings for the seminars to be held throughout the semester will be arranged in the first week of the semester. There will be five Theory Modules throughout the semester and each module will normally include at least two seminar sessions.


Course Requirements:
  1. Service throughout one semester with a partner organization.  On average students are expected to provide 5 hours of service each week to the partner organization. 
  2. Participation in all course events including the seminars mentioned above, of which there will normally be at least ten, and the two meetings mentioned below that will begin and end the course.
  3. The writing requirements for this course are as follows: Five short reports (each approx. 1500 words), three of which will be written in the order indicated below, with the third (the report on the student’s service) to be submitted at the end of the term:
    • The nature of the problem that the partner organization is designed to solve and what the organization aims to accomplish; the history of the development of the partner organization and its current structure and activities.
    • The value and significance of interfaith work, its relevance to the partner organization and to its accomplishments, and to what the student is accomplishing.
    • The work the student did for the organization and what the student accomplished; also whether there are respects in which this work for the organization might have been more effective

The other two short reports will be responses to the issues discussed at seminars associated with the Theory Modules or to readings assigned in preparation for those sessions.  These reports should be submitted within a couple of days of the relevant sessions.   

The course will begin and end with a group meeting of all participating students.  For the first meeting the reading will be Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel.  For the final meeting students will all read at least one short report by each of the other students, and these will serve as part of the basis for discussion. 

A Service Agreement, signed by the student and by the instructor in REL 332, is to be provided to the Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Religion at the start of the semester.



Participation in class seminars            20%

Five short reports                                  80%

Service with a partner organization, as outlined above, is required to pass the course. 


Schedule of Theory Modules and Associated Readings
Theory Module One: Religious Pluralism

Religious pluralism refers to the peaceful coexistence within a single community (from a municipality to the state and the global “ecumene”) of a number of different faiths. Reading for the seminar sessions will be selections from Robert McKim (ed.), Religious Perspectives on Religious Diversity (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2016).

Theory Module Two: Conflict Resolution Strategies and the Psychology of Groups

For this module, we will invite faculty members from the School of Social Work and/or the Departments of Sociology and Psychology to participate in our seminars. The reading for these seminars will be selections from Mark Juergensmeyer, Gandhi’s Way: A Handbook of Conflict Resolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015).

Theory Module Three: Interfaith Dialogue through Shared Texts and Traditions

This module will include one or more seminars led by faculty members of the Department of Religion who will select scriptural texts along with their traditional interpretations to share with the students.  Examples might include the Biblical and Qur’anic accounts of the sacrifice of Isaac, or the narrative of Adam and Eve as it has been understood by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim theologians.

Theory Module Four: Globalization and Social Justice

The reading for the seminars in this module will be selections from Miroslav Volf, Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in the Global Age (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).

Theory Module Five: Interfaith Cooperation for Environmental Stewardship

 Readings for this module will be taken from a number of books, including R. G. Veldman, Andrew Szasz, and R. Haluza-Delay, How the World’s Religions Are Responding to Climate Change (London; New York: Routledge, 2014); and Action Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment (Washington, DC: Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship, 2000).