A Rhodes Scholar who earned a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, Patel served as an adviser on President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.
Patel’s work with the Interfaith Youth Core has been profiled by the likes of the New York Times, Chronicle of Higher Education and Christian Science Monitor. He founded the non-profit organization as a vehicle for making cooperation among people with different beliefs a social norm. The organization unites people of all religious and belief systems, finding common ground in service to others.
“Dr. Patel has emerged as a leading voice in our nation on interfaith cooperation,” said NIU President Doug Baker. “He has made a tremendous positive impact on U.S. universities, including here at NIU, where his work has brought together people with different belief systems and inspired them to work together toward a greater good.”
“Acts of Faith,” which was the text for NIU’s 2013-2015 Common Reading Experience, follows Patel’s 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.
More than 2,500 NIU first-year students used Patel’s book in their courses. His two campus- and community-wide public presentations on the message of interfaith cooperation and service drew more than 1,700 students, faculty, staff and community members.
“Dr. Patel’s book and efforts have really broadened our concept of diversity at NIU, helping us to better understand the significance of religion in our world and underscoring our shared values, rather than our differences,” said Brad Bond, dean of the NIU Graduate School.
Additionally, with the support of President Baker, NIU entered into a partnership agreement with Interfaith Youth Core for the 2015-16 academic year. The arrangement involved interpretation of the Campus Religious and Spirituality Climate Survey, training of about 75 faculty members who teach “Acts of Faith” in the classroom and support in launching the Better Together@NIU student organization.
Collaborative projects with Interfaith Youth Core are scheduled to continue for at least the next three years. Interfaith competency has enormous academic value, connecting with the NIU Student Learning Outcomes of:
- collaborating with others to achieve specific goals;
- integrating knowledge of global interconnections and interdependencies; and
- exhibiting intercultural competencies with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives.
In receiving an honorary degree from NIU, Patel joins a list of noteworthy individuals. Past recipients include Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory Director Nigel Lockyer; Argonne National Laboratory Director Eric D. Isaacs; historian Arthur Schlesinger; U.S. Sen. Paul Simon; poet Gwendolyn Brooks; astronomer Carl Sagan; U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth; Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn of Thailand; and John Sall, executive vice president of the SAS Institute.