SU religion professor attends interfaith seminar

Shenandoah University assistant professor of religion Kevin Minister is attending seminars on teaching interfaith understanding at DePaul University in Chicago this week.

The seminars began last year and are organized by the Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith Youth Core and sponsored by the Henry Luce Foundation. The Chicago seminar, which ends Sunday, comes after a Boston seminar at Boston College in June.

Minister will listen in among 24 other selected higher education peers as leading scholars Eboo Patel and Laurie Patton speak on different applications of interfaith principles in the classroom and across campuses.

Minister is the second Shenandoah University professor to attend the seminar – his wife and co-educator Meredith Minister attended the inaugural seminar in Boston last year, nominated from Kentucky Wesleyan College.

Adrienne Bloss, vice president for academic affairs at the university, wrote one of Kevin Minister’s nomination letters for selection into the seminar. She said his attendance is extremely appropriate given his involvement on campus and his work teaching world religion courses.

“It’s very consistent with his past work in these research areas,” she said.

Although Kevin and Meredith Minister began teaching at Shenandoah University last year, they’ve only furthered its involvement in facilitating interfaith awareness and acceptance. Meredith Minister recently received a $30,000 grant from the Wabash Center that will fund the integration of religious understanding into interdisciplinary teaching with faculty training.

“The grant is part of a fruition of some of the questions that I started asking at the seminar last year,” she said.

Application of those principles will begin in first year seminar classes, and Meredith Minister said it benefits both instructors and freshman students to dive head first into concrete global issues.

“You can’t be a global citizen without understanding religion,” she said.

The context in which the Ministers have taught has shifted as their location has shifted, but the importance of instilling that religious understanding remains vital.

“While students can see all around them and are beginning to be increasingly aware of the diverse world they’re beginning to enter, they’re afraid to talk about religion,” Kevin Minister said.

While educating students about diverse religions and cultures can sometimes be challenging, Minister said he appreciates the way the university encourages incorporation of interfaith understanding initiatives for students in all educational tracks.

“There’s s distinctive way in which Shenandoah has been infusing the pre-professional programs with the humanities and the liberal arts,” he said.

The university made the President’s Higher Education Interfaith Community Service Honor Roll in 2014, and the top-down support for religious understanding within the campus is reflected in student-led co-curricular activities and groups like Better Together. One key player in promoting co-curricular has been the Office of Spiritual Life on campus.

“The office has really been a leader in developing interfaith programs on campus,” he said.

Kevin Minister said he’s looking forward to collaborating and networking with other scholars at the seminar as well as expanding the resources at his disposal for teaching multiple nuanced courses on religion and theology.

Bloss said she knows the entire university’s curriculum will be enriched by what Kevin Minister takes away from the seminar and incorporates in the programs funded by Meredith Minister’s grant project. She said there may be room for a course or two specifically focused on interfaith understanding in the future.

“They’re both very active; they’re fabulous,” she said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com