Inter-Religious Studies Program
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 2019
Developing Inter-religious Literacy
In 21st century Canada, religious leaders are called to be inter-religiously literate. Routinely, we work with other faith groups on public issues. When tragedy strikes, we reach out to other religious groups. Almost every congregation includes inter-faith families. So, at VST, we help students and faculty strengthen their inter-religious skills.
In the fall, we offered our very popular three-weekend graduate course, Spiritual Formation in Communities. Michael Newton shared Buddhist philosophy, history, and meditation. Seemi Ghazi introduced students to Islamic prayer, Sufi traditions, and Quranic recitation. Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan shared Jewish spiritual practices: Shabbat, blessing, and creative Biblical interpretation. In the spring, we introduced a new course, Gender and Sexuality in Religious Traditions. Using theology, sacred story, and personal narrative, Rabbi Laura and students explored the role of women and LGBTQ2S+ persons in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and Indigenous traditions.
Encountering Difference Respectfully
This was a theme of our summer school offerings. VST Research Associate Dr. Terry Neiman taught Speaking of Faith, introducing students to the theory and practice of dialogue. Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan taught Religious Pluralism in the Indigenous Studies Program. Together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous students discussed different approaches to multiculturalism and reconciliation. They put their discussions into practice, visiting a Buddhist Temple, and welcoming guest speaker Imam Tariq Azeem into their worship circle.
Sharing Spiritual Practice
Our optional, prayerful, experiential Commons Hour programs introduce the VST community to spiritual practice across traditions. In October, the musicians of Sulam Jewish World Music Ensemble led Praying With Psalms: A Musical Introduction to Jewish Liturgy. In March, Sikh teacher Sukhvinder Kaur Vinning led The Goldsmith Meditation, based on Sikh teachings about spiritual growth.
Researching New Ideas
Three of our advanced students in the Indigenous and Inter-religious Studies M.A. Program are working on their final thesis projects. Rowan Beaulieu is researching the fusion of Indigenous and Christian practices in Metis Spirituality. Eloecea is creating a website teaching Spiritual Practices of Joy from multiple traditions. Mathew Arthur is writing a philosophical essay on Multispecies Eco-Theology.
Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan was featured along with other prominent Canadian essayists in the book Spiritual Voices (edited by Eleanor Clitheroe and Brooke Anderson), and Rabbi Laura’s book The Infinity Inside: Jewish Spiritual Practice through a Multi-Faith Lens will be launched this spring. Rabbi Laura and Rev. Ray Aldred, Director of Indigenous Studies, are working with the Canadian Race Relations Foundation to create a multi-faith guide to Reconciliation.
Gathering Our Diverse Local Community
Last year’s annual inter-religious conference explored Spiritual Perspectives on Death and Dying.
More than 150 clergy, chaplains, scholars, students, and community members, representing eight religious traditions, gathered to learn together. Our opening panel discussed controversies around Medical Assistance in Dying. Scholarly papers explored spiritual preparation for death. Keynote speaker Dr. David Kuhl shared practical wisdom. Multi-faith musicians shared their ministries for healing. Finally, we all participated in an integrative workshop led by death educators from Willow.
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 and Violence (2019)
- Spiritual Perspectives on Death and Dying (2018) – Read about it here
- Visions of the End Times (2017)
- Encountering the Other (2016)
Conference organizers work with presenters to create a book based on the conference program. A volume based on the 2016 conference, Encountering the Other: Christian and Multifaith Perspectives, is in press at Wipf & Stock Publishers.
“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.
- Cathy Merchant, a current student in the M.Div. program has founded the Living Interfaith 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.
Laura is a ThM student in Indigenous and Inter-Religious Studies at VST, combining multi-faith spiritual care, mental health, and Indigenous concerns is a second-year Chaplain Resident, focusing on mental health and Indigenous spirituality at VGH.
Hillary holds a B.A. from Simon Fraser University in Gender Studies (minor in Philosophy and a certificate in Performance Studies). She has worked as an arts administrator and event coordinator at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, Richmond Museum, Burn in the Forest, Theatre in the Raw, Vancouver School of Theology, Or Shalom Synagogue and more.
Dr. Terry Neiman
Ph.D., 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
Ph.D., 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
Ph.D., 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).