Testing the waters of faith, diversity

IDEALS logoNIU is part of national initiative that examines how undergraduate students engage with religious, non-religious and spiritual diversity while in college.

IDEALS (Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey) makes it possible to compare the experiences of students from different institutional types-public and private, large and small, secular and religiously affiliated. NIU is one of 130 institutions nationwide participating in the survey.

Approximately 1,350 first-year NIU students – all enrolled in UNIV 101 (The University Experience) sections – have been sent a link to the initial survey through an Oct. 16 email message. In addition to being surveyed this fall, students will be contacted at two additional points prior to graduation. Each student will receive a $5 gift for participating in the initial survey.

The research, which is conducted through North Carolina State University in collaboration with the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core, will examine how students’ interfaith diversity experiences and attitudes change over time, and will pinpoint programs, activities, and other environmental factors that foster meaningful interactions with others.

Why does interfaith engagement matter in college?

NIU students outside New Residence Hall“We interact with and encounter situations involving people of different religious and philosophical worldviews on a regular basis,” says Denise Rode, director of first- and second-year experience at NIU.

Rode describes a worldview “as a way people perceive and make meaning of the world around them. It’s a guiding life philosophy, which may be based on a particular religious tradition, belief system or non-religious perspective.”

“We take diversity seriously at NIU, and diversity of beliefs and worldviews are part of that scope,” she adds. “Now and in the future, our students will live and work with individuals from a vast array of cultures, traditions and values. Our students need to be ready for this interaction.”

Current interfaith initiatives at NIU include Interfaith Conversations, a six-week series introducing a variety of world religions and philosophical views, has focused this fall on Christianity, Sikhism and Pagan religions, and will feature Buddhism (Thursday, Oct. 29), Judaism (Thursday, Nov. 5) and Islam (Thursday, Nov. 12) in future sessions which meet at the Faculty Lounge of Founders Memorial Library. The series is open to all and is free of charge.

In addition, an interfaith student organization, Better Together, is in its second year at NIU and meets regularly on alternating Monday evenings to engage in interfaith dialogue, action and service. Information is available through Better Together President Afreen Warsi (awarsi1@niu.edu) or Vice President Eleanor Evins (eevins1@niu.edu).

For more information on the IDEALS study, call (815) 753-0028 or email fsye@niu.edu.

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