Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has devoted his life to the promise of a pluralistic American society, a potluck of flavors to nourish us all and stimulate taste buds beyond a bland melting pot of assimilation. Community and collaboration are at the heart of this vision, Patel asserted at the close of a recent IFYC training for campus leaders. Their schools will be paired for an 18-month exploration of “courageous pluralism,” supported by the Fetzer Institute and the Charles Koch Foundation.

Civilization simply means living and working together for a better society.... We have to ask hard questions of what this means. How much difference can a diverse society take, how much unity does it need? We hope that a diverse community can hold divergent ideas from diverse groups, but it assumes an underlying strength of that community. The work of IFYC is spiritual work, finding and nourishing what is already in our identities, the materials of bridge building, not what I’m giving up to accommodate you, but offering part of who I am to contribute and collaborate for the greater good. 

Participating schools are particularly interested in nurturing diverse campus communities. Each school is paired with another campus that is considered to hold some ideological difference(s). It’s this diversity that, Patel believes, will allow for healthy bridge building.

Gordon College (MA) – Middlebury College (VT)
Calvin University (MI) – Grand Valley State University (MI)
Eastern University (PA) – Lincoln University (PA)
Houghton College (NY) – Ithaca College (NY)
Brigham Young University (UT) – Westminster College (UT)
Mount Vernon Nazarene University (OH) – Kenyon College (OH)
Spring Arbor University (MI) – Oberlin College (OH)

Spring Arbor and Oberlin began their partnership in January with an intensive exchange program called Bridging the Gap. Organizer Simon Greer sees much to be hopeful about.

I had heard a lot about college campuses today and the alleged demise of challenging and deep engagement across lines of difference. And the students confirmed that this type of tense and constructive discourse is far too uncommon. But the students I lived with in the SAU dorms and who I spent day in and day out with in January are not only ready for the challenge of bridging the range of gaps that divide us, they are hungry for it. I have faith that these students aren't the exception but the rule. They are strong, know they aren't perfect, and are willing to get uncomfortable. This experience they shared doesn't need to be rare.... It is possible to make it standard and expected to engage with the "other" whatever that means. Instead of attracting followers by calling people out, canceling them and cutting them down maybe it could become cool to build bridges, to listen with curiosity and humility, and to trust the power of getting proximate with ideas we deeply disagree with.

Bridge building was also in play at the February 3 Courageous Pluralism training in a special public panel, “Holy Bridges: The Role of Religion in American Polarization,” hosted by Aspen Institute’s Inclusive America project. Moderated by Religion and Belief Correspondent for National Public Radio news, Tom Gjelten, the panel included:

  • Justin Giboney, founder, AND Campaign;
  • Sheila Katz, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women;
  • Paul D. Miller, professor and co-chair for Global Politics and Security, Georgetown University; and
  • Asma Uddin, author and religious liberty lawyer.

Each spoke to the well-known challenges of religion in public life but also about the role religion might play in bridging divides and healing communities.

With Michigan being our home, Fetzer is especially happy to have a few "neighbor" schools involved. We applaud the courage of all schools and wish them well with this 18-month endeavor. Fetzer senior program officer Sharif Azami acknowledges the compelling nature of this work: “Diversity is going to be the future. The question is whether or not we are going to engage it.” 

Learn more about the background and plans of the Courageous Pluralism project here.




Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) creates an ecosystem of people and campuses designed to make interfaith cooperation the norm, while creating the next generation of interfaith leaders.