Though young Americans are increasingly reporting no religious affiliation, the interfaith movement at Yale is growing.
A 2012 Pew Research Report showed that a third of young Americans report no religious affiliation, up from 18 percent in 2007. However, college campuses are home to a growing interfaith movement, according to Pete de Kock, the vice president of operations and communications for Interfaith Youth Corps. Interfaith dialogue is defined by a positive and purposeful interaction between people who practice different religious, spiritual and humanistic traditions to foster acceptance and understanding of different belief systems. In parallel with this trend, the University Chaplain’s Office founded the Interfaith Forum at Yale in 2013. The group “seeks to promote religious literacy to the wider Yale community by modeling a willingness to be counter-cultural in how we interact with one another.”
Students interviewed from across religious backgrounds agreed that IFFY occupies an important space in Yale’s religious community.
“I love interfaith work because it’s genuine — it’s bringing yourself and your history to the table and asking honestly about how others engage with faith and life,” said Sasha Stern ’17, former education chair of the Yale Hillel. “And the understanding that comes from that questioning allows you to step into others’ shoes and experience a different perspective on the same wondrously difficult world.”
IFFY was created because more people are interested in being part of interreligious conversation, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler said. She has noticed an increase in the demand for interfaith dialogue, though Kugler said it is difficult to measure religious activity and attribute it to trends. Indeed, the Pew report explains that religious identity is complex and hard to quantify because it is difficult to indicate religiosity if an individual does not practice in the traditional sense.
Still, young Americans are likely to question their faith, Kugler said. She emphasized that college is often a time of religious exploration. For some, the college experience increases their observance of the faith they came practicing. And others might try out another faith, try practicing outside of a group setting, or abandon it completely, she added.
Seven sources interviewed noted that students are increasingly coming from interfaith families, a contributing factor to the call for interfaith activity.
“I think students are seeking answers, both from religious traditions and to learn from their neighbors,” Assistant Chaplain for Special Programs Maytal Saltiel said. “And they’re trying to achieve that across religion.”
Maytal explained that IFFY creates an environment where cross-religious relationships can form. Facilitating interfaith dialogue and new relationships is an integral part of the college experience, she said.
More generally, interfaith organizations exist because people want to know how to engage with people of different faiths, de Kock added.
“We overwhelmingly find that people want to participate in these conversations,” de Kock said.
Because of this demand, de Kock added that universities can no longer ignore the call for organizations like IFFY. He added that IFFY’s establishment is a sign of Yale listening to what its community needs.
De Kock said that in a diverse democracy, interfaith understanding is essential. He added religion is a bridge for cooperation and interfaith organizations help build religious pluralism.
“Interfaith work is the natural expression of one if the central tenets of my faith, that each person is created in the image of God.” Stern said. “There’s a kind of essential human connection that’s created when we ask each other how we see the world, a type of understanding that is hard to build without it.”
Correction, Jan. 12: A previous version of this article misstated that IFFY is the first official platform for multifaith conversation. It is the latest initiative out the Yale Chaplain’s office to create a space for interfiath dialogue. Previous groups include the Multifaith Council and the Interreligious Leadership Council.