New Interreligious Dialogue Cohort on Campus

A ‘Comfortable and Safe’ Space for Students to Share Their Beliefs Without ‘Being Judged’

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Photo by Robbie Miller

On Monday, Oct. 26, the new Interreligious Dialogue Cohort had their first meeting. The dialogue is put in place to teach students how to talk about what they share or do not share with each other and how they can come to terms on their differences for the better of society.

Jackie Letaiugyang, Staff Writer

Bridgewater, Va. – At 4:30 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 26, students from different religious or non-religious backgrounds joined together to discuss their similarities and differences with each other. 

The Interreligious Dialogue Cohort was organized by Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion Nancy Klancher. Klancher began holding interreligious dialogues in the classes she teaches since her arrival at Bridgewater College eight years ago. 

The goal for the Interreligious Dialogue is for students to be educated in and have real experience with addressing their differences with their peers and other people they meet. 

The new cohort will conduct two meetings, each in the fall and spring semesters. It is made possible from a grant that was given to Klancher by a non-profit organization called the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. 

Klancher hopes that by participating in the interreligious dialogue, students will develop “friendships and relationships across religious differences that matter, be a little more comfortable with sharing their own religious or non-religious identity with the people around them and to be able to express that openly with courage and skill.”

“I really want students to have a sense that they can make a change in the world and that they can use their religious or ethical, philosophical, spiritual values and identity to effect that change,” Klancher said. 

Freshman philosophy and religion major Aly Heckeroth learned of the dialogue through an email sent by Reverend Robby Miller on Sept. 15.

“Being a philosophy and religion major, wanting to declare a concentration in interfaith studies, I thought it would help give me a little bit of light on the topic,” said Heckeroth. “I feel like in our culture now, it’s very hard to talk openly about our beliefs to people because of how opinionated everyone is so I’m excited to have an open space where everybody is comfortable talking about it.”

Sophomore Shadley Edge learned about the dialogue from a friend. Edge said he was generally interested because he wanted to meet new people from different perspectives of life and was comfortable attending the cohort because he knows someone who is part of it. 

“Personally, I’m still unsure of myself because I’m still doing my own spiritual journey right now so I felt very vulnerable coming into the meeting,” Edge said. “I did not want people to assume things about me but, to my surprise, no one really did.”  

The Interreligious Dialogue Cohort is limited to first-come-first-serve. Initially, there were 15 seats open but as of Wednesday, Oct. 28, there are seven seats left. Students are offered a free copy of John Lewis’ graphic novel March to inspire them and their hopes for a better society. 

Members of the dialogue have set guidelines that they all agree on to “make sure that everyone feels safe and no one is being judged,” said Heckeroth.

“I’m shocked by how very well it went,” said Edge. “I learned that the campus religious and spiritual community is a lot more diverse than I had thought. It was very comfortable and safe and I can not wait for the next meeting.”