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.
“They want to get the training to involve more of the faith organizations,” Asif said.
Such was the case at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., which is about 20 minutes outside of downtown Chicago. Jeff Carlson, a professor at the school, said in 2011 the school consulted IFYC to help it develop an interfaith activity for the school after Dominican signed a three-year agreement with IFYC to spread knowledge on different faiths. At the same time, Eboo Patel, founder and president of IFYC, was the endowed chairman for the liberal arts and helped teach interfaith literacy at the school through lectures.
Dominican’s method of speedfaithing was a little different than IFYC’s normal form, Carlson said. Like meeting a friend for lunch, students sat down at tables and openly discussed their faiths for five minutes. After time expired, the students moved to other tables and opened up new discussions with others.
More than two years later, Carlson said the school still uses IFYC’s teachings to build interfaith literacy for its students. Freshmen at the school are required to take a seminar that has religious themes for more than one faith, he said.
But speedfaithing is a quick process to introduce a religious tradition, which Carlson said doesn’t allow participants to obtain a total understanding of different faiths.
“It’s definitely not enough,” he said. “Speedfaithing is just a quick way of getting a sense of other people’s main values, ways they live them in their lives (and) big questions they’re intrigued by. So it’s a sense of getting a quick smattering of other people’s answers to those questions.”
Carlson said if speedfaithers want to gain a better understanding of different faiths, they'll have to do individual research.
Hamilton said UCI had the student speakers make up a list of websites and locations that other students could go to to learn more about different religions in case they didn't learn enough during their speedy info sessions.
The quickness of speedfaithing, though, is part of its charm, Asif said. It’s less about understanding a faith and its theology and more about understanding the values religions share, Asif said.
“Students can kind of quickly have that light bulb moment where they learn of somebody’s tradition and how it connects to others,” he said.
Carlson said speedfaithing is a way to extend the religious experience. Instead of only attending church on the weekends, this opens doors to meeting fellow churchgoers and building relationships with members of other faiths outside of the pews, he said. It enlightens and teaches, Carlson said, and it’s a “valuable engaging, fun, interesting experience. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating activity that you can do.”
Asif said speedfaithing is a gateway to more religious learning and should inspire deeper conversations between peers. “People come together and voice their beliefs,” he said, adding that students can use this activity to get better involved with religious activities.
Carlson said speedfaithing has given students a better way to build religious activity.
Hamilton said UCI students were interested in learning about different religions, which led to the success of the event. It was so successful, Hamilton said, that UCI is planning to host another round of speedfaithing in early 2014 — and it may even be opened to the public.
“I think adults should have it just as much as students do,” she said. “Everyone would benefit from this kind of exposure to different cultures and ideas and religions.”
Carlson said students might decide to attend religious classes, retreats or service projects because of those quick five-minute conversations they had during speedfaithing.
“Hopefully,” Carlson said, “it inspires people to take some other next step.”
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