Common Reading Experience: ‘Acts of Faith’

Book offers hopeful testament to power, passion of young people

Book cover of “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation” by Eboo Patel“Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation” by Eboo Patel has been chosen for NIU’s 2013-2014 Common Reading Experience.

Patel is the founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, an organization he founded to “catalyze, resource and network this generation of interfaith leaders, and watch them change the world.”

“Acts of Faith” follows his path from adolescent apathy to his urgency to be a part of something during his college years. Through his serendipitous journey, Patel reflects on his own beliefs, his interactions with non-believers and believers of many different faiths, and his call to act on his own passion to develop the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).

His work predominantly focuses on college and university campuses.

“Patel really wants to create a campus community where people understand one another, put aside differences, respect the differences and come together to work for a larger civic good,” Vice Provost Anne Birberick says.

The book emphasizes the power that youth can have when engaging in their surroundings in a positive way, highlighting service as common ground for young individuals to explore their beliefs.

In “Acts of Faith” Patel writes, “W.E.B. Du Bois famously said, ‘The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.’ I believe that the twenty-first century will be shaped by the question of the faith line.”

Patel’s journey goes hand in hand with this year’s CRE selection, which sets out to:

  • appeal to students who want to diversify their college experience;
  • challenge them to explore the beliefs and faith traditions they’ve experienced or are curious about, and
  • demand that they think critically about a diversity component that is not typically addressed in college.

“With classes beginning and first-year students arriving, it’s important to help students feel a sense of purpose and belonging on NIU’s campus. Through the Common Reading program, First- and Second-Year Experience, along with other campus organizations, can help new and current students find a sense of purpose and belonging on campus, while connecting with their peers,” says Abria Martin, student staff member of First- and Second-Year Experience.

Eboo Patel

Eboo Patel

“ ‘Acts of Faith’ brings our campus together in a way that you wouldn’t normally see,” adds Martin, a junior communication major. “We’re all here for the same reason and school is our No. 1 focus, but the Common Reading challenges us get involved and see the greater picture. There’s such a huge impact we can make by reflecting on our beliefs and serving together.”

“If we can help students get involved in one book during their first semester here, we can help them understand that this type of engaged learning can happen in all classes,” says Dino Martinez, associate director at Housing & Dining, and a member of the Common Reading Experience committee.

The Common Reading Experience is not directed only at students, says Denise Rode, director of First- and Second-Year Experience.

“We encourage all members of the campus and surrounding community to engage with this book and participate in educational and service events that will take place throughout the year. We especially want faculty to consider ways in which they can incorporate ‘Acts of Faith’ into the classroom,” Rode says. “Campus ministers, organization advisers, university staff and community members also are urged engage in the discussion of ways in which we can join with students in shaping the world through service learning.”

The Common Reading challenges faculty and staff to get involved to find purpose to help students shape their academic career. “It gives you a common ground that we all need so that we, as instructors, can be effective in our teaching, ” says Sheela Vemu, associate professor of biological sciences.

“As a faculty member, who on a freshman level would be teaching introductory French, even in the context of a French language course, I would see ‘Acts of Faith’ having relevance in talking about cultural differences and different perspectives,” Birberick adds.

Service will be a main focus of the events surrounding this year’s Common Reading Experience.

Students, faculty, and staff will be encouraged to come together to volunteer a few hours of service for initiatives such as the annual CROP Walk to end hunger, working with children at a local shelter for the homeless, packaging meals families for hunger relief in Africa and visiting with residents at area rehabilitation and nursing homes.

Other Common Reading Experience events are expected to include panel discussions, a lecture series and late-night activities on world religions and other belief traditions.

Interfaith Youth Core logoPatel’s public presentation is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 29, to highlight the Common Reading Experience calendar. He will speak in the Carl Sandburg Auditorium of the Holmes Student Center with an opportunity to interact with Patel following. Patel is expected to speak on the value of Ubuntu (human kindness) and the power of individuals from all background in service together. A series of afternoon activities with students, faculty and staff will be announced in October.

Agraduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Patel grew up in Glen Ellyn, Ill. He now serves as an adviser on President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

Patel has spoken about his vision for interfaith cooperation at places such as the TED conference, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Nobel Peace Prize Forum, as well as on college and university campuses across the country.

For more information, email drode@niu.edu.

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