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Elizabethtown Initiating a Major in Interfaith Leadership

By E. A. Harvey


The new library at Elizabethtown College. – Photo: etown.edu

The new library at Elizabethtown College. – Photo: etown.edu

Inspired by a national call from Interfaith Youth Core founder Eboo Patel, Elizabethtown College is the first in the United States to offer a major in interfaith leadership studies (ILS). The major, confirmed by Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core to be the first, is heavily supported by Patel, who has been a member of President Barack Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships.

Patel, the College’s commencement speaker in 2013, envisioned a new academic discipline for creating better diplomats, doctors, lawyers, politicians, peacekeepers, international business people, religious leaders, and educators. His call for the development of this new academic field of study was outlined in his Coca-Cola World Fund Lecture, given Jan. 26, 2013, at Yale University.

“Elizabethtown is the first college in the nation to develop an academic major in Interfaith Leadership,” Patel said. “With its Brethren heritage, high academic standards and emphasis on educating leaders who serve the world, it is an ideal institution to be on the vanguard in this way. I expect many other colleges to follow Elizabethtown’s example in the years to come.”

The proposal was funded by an Interfaith Youth Core/Teagle Foundation-funded grant, with the course set to launch this fall for the 2015-2016 academic year. The first ILS graduates will be among the class 2019.

“[The] major includes coursework not only in religion, but also in business, political science, sociology and even biology; it will prepare students for a variety of career pathways, including non-profit leadership, NGO work, and careers with faith-based national and international organizations,” said Elizabethtown College Chaplain Tracy Sadd.

Eboo Patel’s 2013 speech at Elizabethtown College that inspired the school to establish an Interfaith Leadership Studies program

Christina Bucher, chair of the Department of Religious studies, who developed the ILS program with Sadd, noted that Elizabethtown is well equipped to support this major, pointing out that it “is excellent preparation for students who want to pursue a path towards ministry.” As the interdisciplinary ILS major includes coursework not only in religion, but also in business, political science, sociology and even biology, a broader understanding of the term “ministry” has been adopted by the program to include leaders in community development, government agencies, NGOs, and national and international service organizations.

A minor in interfaith leadership studies also will be offered and will be easily accessible to students not only in the liberal arts and sciences, but also to students in the more credit-intensive pre-professional programs, including international business, education, occupational therapy and social work.

ILS complements a pre-professional major, such as international business or communication, or is preparation for a wide range of masters programs.

In 2011, Elizabethtown College named interfaith engagement as an institutional priority for the College’s Strategic Plan for the years 2012-2017 and already has gained national recognition for interfaith work as one of the first 250 colleges and universities in the nation to participate in the White House President’s Interfaith and Community Service Challenge.