Inter-Religious Studies Program

Inter-Religious Studies Program

Religion & Thoughtful Activism Conference
May 25th – 27th, 2021
Learn More

Program Update 2020
Student Initiatives
Degree Programs

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 2020

Education for Our Times

Stressful times can bring people of different faiths together – especially if we understand how much we have in common. As chaplains, we work together to visit the sick and care for the incarcerated. As community leaders, we feed the hungry and lobby for human rights. It is true that each tradition uses vocabulary drawn from its own culture and scripture. Thus, at VST, we help students understand different ways of approaching God and community. Our goal is to ensure that we come together in a thoughtful, engaged, and generous way for the good of the world.

Photo: (R-L) Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan-Kaplan & The Rev. Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls

On Campus

Graduate courses are at the core of our inter-religious education work. This past year, summer courses included The Buddha Way with Roshi Michael Newton and Interfaith Storytelling for Christian Preaching with Rabbi Mark Novak and Renee Brachfeld. Last fall, Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan-Kaplan, our Director of Inter-religious Studies, taught Ritual and Sacred Ceremony, a cross-cultural and practical look at effective uses of religious ritual. This spring, she taught Encountering the Other, with a focus on inter-religious and inter-cultural encounter.

Our Commons Hour program offers students, faculty, and staff an opportunity to explore spiritual practices from non-Christian traditions. This fall, we hosted renowned Kabbalah scholar, Dr. Daniel Matt. He spoke about the paradoxical connection between nonexistence and infinity, and introduced Shekhinah, a feminine face of God. Rabbi Laura then led an experiential meditation on these concepts, drawn from Hasidic Jewish traditions.

In the Community

VST students and alumni reached into the community to share their inter-religious learning. Indigenous and Inter-religious Studies (IIS) student Kate Fisher explored land and culture through art with residents of Haida Gwaii, supervised by Ts’msyen-Heilstuk artist Dr. Patricia Vickers. IIS student Muse Greenwood researched best practices for social enterprise start-up organizations. Spiritual care student Cara Pryor co-authored the essay “Buddhism in Multifaith Chaplaincy” in Multifaith Perspectives in Spiritual Care (CMF). MDiv student Cathy Merchant and IIS graduate Eloecea lead the Living Interfaith Sanctuary, a Vancouver spiritual community dedicated to interfaith learning and practice. Rabbi Laura, who lectures widely, was especially pleased to explore inter-religious collaboration in a talk on “The Future of Religion in North America” at Kings University College.

Collaborative Research

Our inter-religious publication program brings scholars from different traditions together to research issues of mutual concern. Two new anthologies this year are: Spirit of Reconciliation: A Multifaith Guide (Canadian Race Relations Foundation, 2020), co-edited by Rev. Dr. Ray Aldred and Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan-Kaplan; and Encountering the Other: Christian and Multifaith Perspectives (Wipf & Stock, 2020), co-edited by Dr. Harry Maier and Rabbi Dr. Laura Duhan-Kaplan, and based on VST’s 2016 conference. Harry and Laura signed a contract to co-edit a new scholarly book series, “Religious Pluralism and Public Life” (Wipf & Stock).

Religion and Violence – 2019 Conference

Last May, our conference focused on barriers to inter-religious cooperation. Keynote lecturer, Emmy award-winning journalist Peter W. Klein, spoke on “Faces of Abrahamic Violence: Real People, Real Stories.” Scholars presented papers on spiritual responses to trauma, terrorism, othering, domestic violence, political violence, islamophobia, antisemitism and more. Still, we ended on a strong note of hope, with a multifaith panel discussion of Nonviolent Responses to Violence. Speakers Arun Chatterjee (Hindu), Anita Fast (Mennonite), Rev. Mary Fontaine (Cree), Eli Kaplan (Jewish), and Kyira Korrigan (Buddhist) introduced conference-goers to five hands-on projects: Feeding the Homeless in Surrey, Jerusalem Peacemakers, Hummingbird Ministries for Children and Youth, Collaborative Arab-Jewish Education in Jaffa and Federal Prison Chaplaincy in BC.


Please Join Us

Members of the community are welcome to join us for graduate courses, Commons Hour gatherings, and the annual Inter-religious Studies Conference.


Inter-Religious Conference

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.

Religion & Thoughtful Activism

Recent topics have been:

  • 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


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.

Student Initiatives

“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.


Hillary Kaplan

Conference Administrator

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

PhD, Communication Studies, Simon Fraser University
Research Associate

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
Research Associate

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
Research Associate

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).