Multifaith Initiatives

The Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life is charged with developing and supporting initiatives to engage the whole campus with matters of religious, spiritual, and ethical life in general, the appreciation and celebration of particular religious traditions, and multifaith dialogue, education, and engagement among and beyond various traditions. For more information, please contact the Director of ORSL.

The Interfaith Faculty and Staff Council is a faculty and staff advisory board to the Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. In cooperation with the Director, the IFSC provides advice, support, and advocacy to promote religious and philosophical pluralism and interfaith engagement on campus. It is composed of Oberlin College faculty and staff members of diverse religious and philosophical perspectives who are connected with various constituencies and committed to religious and philosophical pluralism and interfaith engagement. Members are appointed by the Director and the Dean of Students, who serve as liaisons to the IFSC. The IFSC receives updates on the work of ORSL; provides guidance as ORSL builds upon current successes and identifies new opportunities; and advocates on behalf of ORSL within the college community. (ORSL Affiliates, Advisors, and other local religious leaders are invited by the Director to serve on a distinct but related Religious Leaders Council.)

The Interfaith Student Council is a student leadership, advisory, and programming board that works with the Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. In cooperation with the Director, the ISC engages in interfaith dialogue and organizes interfaith programming for the campus. It is composed of student religious and philosophical leaders of diverse identities who are committed to fostering religious and philosophical pluralism and interfaith engagement on campus and beyond. The council seeks to connect with, respond to, and advise on the religious and philosophical interests and needs of the student body as a whole. Students may apply to join and members are appointed by the Director and the Dean of Students. In the past, such interfaith programs have included 9/11 commemorations, Interfaith Service Days, multifaith celebrations and vigils, forums and panels, interfaith trainings and conferences, film screenings and discussions, and Multifaith Awareness Weeks. They may also include art exhibits and sacred music and dance performances.

From time to time, the Director, Affiliates and Coordinators of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life offer occasional courses, seminars, and studies on religious pluralism and interfaith engagements to build a critical curricular component into Oberlin's religious diversity and interfaith work. These courses explore contemporary developments in religious life, the history of the interfaith movement, and the knowledge and skills necessary for students to become effective interfaith leaders. These are generally community-based learning courses, which add to classroom learning and study opportunities for applied research and practice on campus and in the community.

Based on the work of Interfaith Youth Core, Oberlin College's Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research jointly offer ongoing opportunities for students of different religions and philosophies to engage in community service and spiritual and ethical reflection. Our organizing principle is that since all religions and philosophies share a common value of service, common action for the common good can be a springboard for interfaith learning and community building. Under the leadership of the Interfaith Student Council, Interfaith Service Days are offered once each semester and students, faculty, and staff are invited to serve together in the local community and then dialogue and celebrate together. With ORSL, a faith-based service site is also offered each year through the Bonner Center for Community-Engaged Learning, Teaching, and Research's Orientation Day of Service. Bonner Scholars serve as interns in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life to learn and promote interfaith service learning.

Heard the expression "Holy Toledo!"? Well Toledo is not the only holy city in Ohio. In fact, Oberlin itself, the Cleveland area, and the larger northern Ohio region has a rich religious heritage that includes "Hopewell" Native American earthworks, the first Mormon temple in the country, crucial sites to the Underground Railroad and Abolition movements, a sizeable Amish country, the headquarters of the United Church of Christ, and premier museums with exhibitions of religious art, like the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage. Cleveland has many exceptionally beautiful cathedrals, churches, and synagogues, and there are also prominent examples of the United States' more recent religious history, including the Cleveland Buddhist Temple, the Islamic Center of Cleveland, the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, and the Shiva Vishnu Hindu Temple. Once or twice each semester, ORSL sponsors tours for students to visit these sites and learn more about religious diversity.

The Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life publishes a weekly e-newsletter to make the college community aware of upcoming multifaith and tradition-specific gatherings and programs, and to build interfaith bridges between diverse communities by encouraging them to support each other's programs. To be added to the listserv, please contact the Director. The e-newsletter is also simultaneously published to Facebook.

The Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, in partnership with other campus units, campus and local religious communities, and endowed lectureships, sponsors a number of major campuswide programs related to religious and spiritual life each year. These include religious and holiday observances such as celebrations of Ramadan, Diwali, Thanksgiving, Bodhi Day, Ash Wednesday, Holocaust Memorial Day, Alumni Memorial Service, and Baccalaureate.

They also include educational lectures, concerts, film screenings, reading groups, and thematic programs on topics such as religion and ecology, vocational discernment, atheism and science, and iconography. Each year the ORSL sponsors several major programs within the following initiative areas:

  • Religions, Races, and Ethnicities
  • Religions, Genders, and Sexualities
  • Religions and Ecology

The President John Henry Barrows Medal for Interfaith Leadership is a commencement award established by the Interfaith Faculty and Staff Council to honor a graduating student who has demonstrated outstanding and exemplary leadership in promoting religious and philosophical pluralism and interfaith engagement during their time at Oberlin College. The medal is named for Oberlin College's fifth president, the Reverend John Henry Barrows (1847-1902), who convened the 1893 World's Parliament of Religions, which is widely regarded as the beginning of the modern interfaith movement. Like President Barrows, awardees will have demonstrated a significant commitment to their own religious or philosophical tradition as well as a passionate involvement in interfaith engagement. Oberlin College faculty and staff and ORSL affiliates may nominate graduating students. The Barrows Medal honors Oberlin's ongoing tradition of interfaith leadership.

Oberlin has several multifaith campus spiritual communities that bring students together around particular issues or for particular purposes. Oberlin Meditators (OM) is a multifaith student organization that meets regularly to practice meditation. And Queers and Allies of Faith (QUAF) is a multifaith student organization that provides a caring community and opportunities for education and action on issues of spirituality, religions, genders, and sexualities. For more information or to get involved, please see our Campus Spiritual Communities webpage.

The Friendship Initiative is a joint project of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and the Religion Department that explores and promotes friendship as a radical practice for interfaith, intercultural, and international peace. Emerging from the scholarly work of Oberlin Islamicist Professor Amir Mahallati who examines friendship as a religious, philosophical, literary, and cultural value in Islam, the Friendship Initiative sponsors courses, lectures, and celebrations focused on friendship and peace. The Friendship Circle is a student organization that helps to plan and promote these activities, including Friendship Day, which takes place annually on or around April 8. For more information please visit the Friendship Initiative website.