Inter-Religious Studies Program
Religious Responses to Climate Change Conference
May 24th – 26th, 2022
What We Do
We help prepare VST’s student clergy, spiritual care providers, and scholars for work in a multi-faith world. We help VST connect with groups representing various religious traditions in our region’s diverse environment. We support student spiritual formation, inter-religious learning, academic research, graduate studies, and community outreach.
How We Do It
- Masters degree in Indigenous and Inter-Religious Studies
- Graduate courses on religious traditions, dialogue, and current issues
- Annual Inter-Religious Studies conference
- Commons Hour Spiritual Practice from World Traditions program
- Facilitating publication of scholarly research
Program Update 2021
Photo: Harold Rosen presenting at the 2020 Inter-religious Conference
Recently, a community group asked me for the “elevator speech” about inter-religious cooperation. “Why,” they asked, “do people of different faiths go out of their way to work together? And what makes it so hard, sometimes?” As I answered their questions, I realized the answers express the goals of VST’s Inter-Religious Studies Program—our way of leaning into the school’s mission of “hospitable, respectful collaboration for the good of all creation.”
Diverse religious communities work together for many reasons. They may advocate in unison for laws that protect religious diversity, and for school programs that reduce bullying and hate crimes. They may pool their resources to care for vulnerable people, working together to feed the hungry or offer chaplaincy support. Faith leaders from different traditions may ask each other questions about best practices. And, of course, neighbours may simply gather for friendship and learning.
Our province’s initial response to COVID-19 lockdowns is a great example of inter-religious cooperation. Most of BC’s religious communities supported public health measures. Spiritual leaders explained their support in different ways, depending on the traditions of their community. But they all wondered how to provide food, visits, and emotional support in COVID-safe ways. So, they shared best practices in “town hall” conference calls with health officials, in multi-faith Facebook groups, and through personal conversation, with colleagues of different faiths.
But, helpful as it is, this collaboration isn’t usually easy. Often it takes all a faith community’s efforts just to care for their own close circle. Even when they want to reach out, they may not be skilled in intercultural communication. They might not know how to navigate incompatible theologies, political differences, or histories of trauma.
VST’s Inter-Religious Studies program aims to help faith communities and leaders navigate successfully. All VST students choose at least one elective course in religious pluralism. Some courses help students learn about their neighbors’ practices; others focus on skills in listening, dialogue, and cooperation. Students pursuing the MA in Indigenous and Inter-religious Studies (MA IIS) go deeper. They train to become experts, supporting others in Reconciliation and community-building. Members of the larger community join us for our annual Inter-Religious conference. The event offers a safe, structured forum for exchange, where participants often form new relationships and imagine new projects.
Our 2021 online Inter-Religious Studies conference on “Religion and Thoughtful Activism” brought together 150 people for a three-day think tank. Many of our faculty, students, and research associates presented original research. The forty presenters included scholars and activists from five different countries and eight different spiritual traditions. Our first keynote speaker, Shachi Kurl of the Angus Reid Institute, talked about the challenges and opportunities for people of faith who care about the public good. Our second keynote featured Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger and Noor Awad from Roots Palestinian-Israeli Network. They spoke of the slow but powerful work of connecting across fractured political narratives.
Students in the MA IIS program—in addition to their thesis—do applied field work that facilitates community connections. For example, Kevin McCarty authored an updated World Religions curriculum for Seventh Day Adventist schools. Nirmalya Das, mentored by VST graduate Lauren Sanders, is improving support for Indigenous residents at a Richmond shelter. Shadia Qubti is creating an inter-religious podcast to share VST’s work with a wider audience.
Would you like to learn more about our work? Join us for our annual conference May 24-26 on Religious Responses to Climate Change. Log in to our spring Commons Hour, where we will explore spiritual practice from a non-Christian tradition. Read the chapter “Approaching Inter-Religious Studies” in the faculty’s new book Before Theological Study: A Thoughtful, Engaged, and Generous Approach (Wipf & Stock, 2021; edited by Maier, Moyse, and Topping). Listen to the podcast “Distant Prayers,” summarizing religious cooperation and conflict around COVID-19—the work of our interdisciplinary, interfaith group at UBC, funded by a Wall Institute grant. Or just send me an email, and let me know what interests you.
Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan-Kaplan
Ruth & Bernard F. Duhan Inter-religious Studies Essay Award
2021 Winner: Rachel Wilkowski
Seeking Justice: Depictions of God’s Justice in Children’s Bibles
Rachel Wilkowski is currently the part time Director of Family Ministry at St. Peter’s Fireside and a full-time PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin. Her dissertation focuses on the interpretive influences underlying adaptations of Genesis 1–3 in select Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and non-religious children’s Bibles from 1980 to present.
About the Award
In memory of Ruth and Bernard F. Duhan, who modelled being good neighbours in a multi-faith world while staying rooted in their own tradition. The Award is for an outstanding essay submitted to the Inter-Religious Studies Conference by a VST graduate student.
Each May, the Inter-Religious Studies Program hosts a 2-day conference on a topic of community concern across religious traditions. Typically, the conference includes a keynote speaker, multi-faith panel, integrative workshop, music, and presentations by scholars of various traditions.
Recent topics have been:
- Religion & Thoughtful Activism (2021)
- Religious, Spiritual, Secular (2020)
- Religion and Violence (2019)
- Spiritual Perspectives on Death and Dying (2018) – Read about it here
- Visions of the End Times (2017)
- Encountering the Other (2016) – Read about it here and here
Inter-Religious Studies Conference Podcast
This podcast showcases some of the deep and inspiring conversations that take place in inter-religious spaces.
This season, our podcast focuses on “Religion and Thoughtful Activism,” the 2021 theme of the Vancouver School of Theology’s annual Inter-Religious Studies Conference.
We are pleased to announce the new book series Religious Pluralism and Public Life (Pickwick Publications), co-edited by Laura Duhan-Kaplan and Harry O. Maier. The first volume in the series, Encountering the Other: Christian and Multifaith Perspectives, co-edited by Laura Duhan-Kaplan and Harry O. Maier (Pickwick, 2020) is based on VST’s first Inter-religious Studies conference and features several VST authors.
We are also pleased to announce the publication of Spirit of Reconciliation: A Multi-faith Resource for Indigenous and Canadian Relations, co-edited by Ray Aldred and Laura Duhan-Kaplan (Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2020). Available as a FREE EBOOK download here.
“Otherwise Affiliated” Group
This student-led spiritual sharing group meets monthly (selected Tuesdays at 12:00 noon) for sharing of ritual and discussion. Open to all students, it provides an alternative to denominational worship services.
Recent participants have represented Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, Unitarian, Bahai, Mennonite, Methodist, and Unity traditions.
Community Multifaith Projects
How do VST students and graduates bring their inter-religious learning into the community? Here is a snapshot of some of their work.
- Rev. Lorraine Ashdown, a graduate of the IIS Diploma program, facilitates a multi-faith women’s wisdom circle in Vancouver.
- Ryan Tristin Chapman, a graduate of the MAIIS program, has organized Interfaith Garden Tours and ecological discussions in Vancouver.
- Chris Osahon Eigbike, a graduate of the MAIIS program, organized World Interfaith Harmony Week for the Surrey Interfaith Council.
- Arun Chatterjee, a graduate of the MAPPL program, has organized Surrey’s Interfaith Feed the Hungry Project.
- Dr. Eloecea, a graduate of the MAIIS Program, works as an Interfaith Counsellor at the Living Interfaith Sanctuary. Cathy Merchant, a current student in the M.Div. program, founded the Sanctuary, an inclusive spiritual community open to people and practices from multiple traditions.
- Tuveyc Mordag, a graduate of the M.Div. program, has started the 2H Organization, providing cultural support to immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region.
- Elyse Brazel, a graduate of the IIS Diploma Program, is the Education Coordinator at the University of Calgary’s Faith and Spirituality Centre.
Research Affiliate and Conference Administrator
Yehuda Mansell is a Ph.D. Candidate in the joint Durham University/VST program. He holds an MA in Theology from Regent College and a BA in Bible, Archaeology, and ANE Studies from Ben Gurion University in Israel. Yehuda lives in Surrey in a refugee resettlement home. His research interests include literary theory, the book of Job, and Ancient Near Eastern Literature. Yehuda has more than 20 years of experience working with youth, homelessness, addiction, and refugees.
Faculty Assistant and Conference Administrator
Cathy Merchant is the founder of the Living Interfaith Sanctuary in Vancouver, BC. She is an MDiv student at VST and holds an MA in Middle East Studies from the University of Washington. Cathy previously worked for the Compassionate Listening Project and as an Interfaith activist and community organizer.
Dr. Terry Neiman
PhD, Communication Studies, Simon Fraser University
Terry does conflict intervention professionally, specializing in dialogue. He is currently on the faculty of the Communications program at Douglas College. He has also taught at the Justice Institute of British Columbia, Centre for Conflict Resolution; Simon Fraser University School of Communication and Vancouver School of Theology. Terry has also volunteered as a facilitator in CIJA’s Jewish-Christian dialogue.
Dr. Mark Stein
PhD, Linguistics, UMass Amherst
Mark is trained in theoretical linguistics. He has specialized in pastoral care within an interfaith environment. His current research explores the complexities of Jews and Christians learning together.
Dr. Syed Nasir Zaidi
PhD, Islamic Philosophy and Theology, University of Tehran
Syed serves as Muslim Chaplain at UBC; Muslim Spiritual Care Provider at VGH, Research Associate at VST, and Religious consultant, Al-Zahraa Islamic Center, Richmond BC. Previously he was Assistant Professor at International Islamic University Islamabad (2003-2004); Visiting Professor, Bonn University Germany (2006); Director General Research at the Council of Islamic Ideology Pakistan (2007 – 2010).