Colleges are borrowing from a dating strategy to educate students about religion.
Speedfaithing, which combines religious teaching and speed dating, has popped up at college campuses across the country, like the University of California, Dominican University in Illinois and the University of Tampa, in recent years, and is a tool schools are using to educate students.
“Speedfaithing is sort of like speed dating,” said Nasser Asif, spokesman for Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit organization that has brought the activity to more than 200 schools across five continents. “Students come together to express their shared values and see where they line up among those values and see what values they have in common that they could organize around community service for.”
Most recently on Oct. 30, UCI hosted a speedfaithing event at its student center, which featured students journeying from one room to the next in 10-minute intervals to learn about different religions. A variety of religions were represented at the event, including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Mormonism, Islamism and Sikhism.
The fast-paced activity, in all its different forms, aims at teaching college students about religion. With the Pew Research Center finding that about one-in-four Americans ages 18 to 29 are not affiliated with any religion, scholars say speedfaithing is looking to give options and understanding for those searching for faith.
But scholars wonder whether speedfaithing is enough to completely educate youngsters on religion and if it's too casual an activity, especially if it's not bringing enough understanding and knowledge about different religions.
‘An elevator pitch’
A religiously unaffiliated organization, the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core opened in 2002 to educate and inform youngsters about multiple religions by bringing speeches and learning sessions to college campuses. It started speedfaithing activities internally in 2005 as a team-building activity for its staff, Asif said, before bringing speedfaithing to one of its learning institutes, which happened four times a year throughout the country in 2010.
But IFYC’s original form of speedfaithing was different than the altered versions seen at UCI or Dominican today. Students lined up in two circles — a big and a small one, like “a wheel inside of a wheel,” Asif said — and would have three minutes to ask questions about shared values in religion to the person across from them. After time expired, students in the smaller circle would rotate to the left and begin a new discussion with another person.
“Students could give an elevator pitch about their belief and tell their peers the high points of their particular faith,” Asif said.
IFYC still uses the activity at the leadership institute sessions it hosts throughout the year. Currently, the Chicago-based organization hosts four events in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, Asif said.
Karina Hamilton, director of the UCI Dalai Lama Scholars Program, which offers scholarships to UCI students, attended one of the institute sessions in 2012 and learned about speedfaithing. In collaboration with students from an interfaith class taught in January 2013, Hamilton hosted a speedfaithing event on Oct. 30 in the on-campus student center at UCI. The event featured 10-minute conversations between about 100 students from the campus and 10 faculty members on different faiths.
“I think what was really remarkable about the entire event, it was just the curiosity and the respect and the real camaraderie of all their participants, and I wish we could see more of that in the world,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton is one of many organizers for interfaith groups on college campuses looking to add speedfaithing events. Some organizers ask IFYC officials to coach them on the best methods to staging interfaith activities, including speedfaithing, Asif said.
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