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Interfaith Inform
March 14, 2023
Kaufman Interfaith Institute


Celebrating the Kaufman Team

We're pretty proud of the incredible team of people here at the Institute who make all of our programing and events particularly effective and powerful. It takes a unique combination of skill and passion to curate spaces for people to connect, build relationships, and take action across difference. Once a month, we are pausing to spotlight the people on our team who foster understanding. You'll hear the stories from our staff, in their own words, as to their "why" for doing to this work.

Staff Spotlight: Liz English

In October of 2008, McGill University in Montreal hosted a conference called “Scriptural Authority and Status in World Religions.” Representatives from each of ‘the big six’ religious traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Sikhism) took turns speaking about the role of the written word in their respective traditions. Recitations from their sacred books accompanied histories of the creation and protection of those texts, stories of the complex traditions of interpretation surrounding them, and personal testimonies of complicated and rewarding relationships with the words. Six speakers somehow wove together a singular message on humanity’s written relationship to the divine, and it echoed in the rafters.

There I was in the crowd, 19 years old, in my sophomore year at McGill, and completely entranced.

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, raised in the Presbyterian Church, with amazingly few interactions with other religious perspectives under my belt by the time I ventured off to college. I remember attending a bar mitzvah or two in my early teens, though the memories that remain are predominantly of awkward teenage dancing and not of any substantive dialogue. Sadly, I remember being introduced to a skewed image of Islam in the aftermath of 9/11. What I would later learn was a beautiful tradition was then obscured by fear, confusion, and misinformation. My family did travel quite a bit as I was growing up, but visits to Notre Dame and the Sagrada Familia, while intensely meaningful, didn’t do much to widen my gaze beyond Christianity.

I left Memphis with my Christian upbringing and my Southern accent in tow. Any awareness I had of other worldviews was at best peripheral and at worst dangerously incorrect. 

Thankfully, even a short time in Montreal, a truly multicultural city, did wonders to educate me to the diversity of the world. But while the city opened my eyes, the conference shined the light. I remember winding down at the post-conference reception thinking, “Everyone is saying the same thing!”– a sentiment which I can recognize now as more than a little naïve and overly simplistic, but my 19-year-old self saw only the similarities. I felt enlightened and inspired and hungry for more. Within a week, I had changed my schedule for the upcoming semester and enrolled in a major in World Religions.

In the years following this experience, through my time at McGill, the University of Edinburgh, and the University of Denver, I leaned into the academic study of religious and spiritual traditions of the world, basking in not only their moments of similarity but also their profound and illuminating differences. While my personal spirituality waxed and waned, my curiosity never faded.

What began as ethereal enlightenment grew to include down-to-earth questions. After years of studying the beliefs, the rituals, the communities themselves, I turned to the process. Why do we study religions the way we do? Where did this comparative practice come from, and what purpose does it serve? Conversely, what harm does it cause? Whose voices have been elevated in these conversations, and whose have been silenced? I committed myself to the hard and necessary work of naming and deconstructing Religious Studies’ damaging colonial history and its effects in the hopes of creating a more equitable discipline going forward.

By joining the Kaufman Interfaith Institute team, I’ve come out from behind my stacks of books and taken a much-needed step into the lived experiences of my community. From worldviews on a page to worldviews as they are lived - complex, personal, and dynamic. Stepping into this work, I have my religious literacy and my questions in tow, but above all, I carry with me my unrelenting curiosity. I am here to listen and to learn. 

It is my hope that, together, we can continue the work of the Kaufman Institute of fostering mutual respect and understanding while also pushing the boundaries, asking hard questions about the spaces we create, the voices we elevate, and the comparisons we draw. 

Liz English


Kaufman Interfaith Book Group
Alternate Wednesdays, September 2022 - May 2023
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
The Kaufman Interfaith Institute hosts a recurring book group wherein we read and explore a variety of interfaith works and authors. Meetings take place on every other Wednesday from now until May. 
The group will be discussing exerpts from the report from the Aspen Institute on interfaith engagement in our own community, entitled Building Interfaith Bridges: West Michigan’s Journey Toward Principled Pluralism.
The next meeting is scheduled to take place tomorrow, Wednesday, March 15 at 2pm
Building Trust Across America, One Relationship At A Time
Thursday, March 23, 2023 | 4:00 PM - 6:00 PM
GVSU Allendale Campus, Kirkhof Center
1 Campus Drive, Allendale, MI 49401
At a time when America feels like it is ripping apart at the seams, there is a pressing need for civil conversation and relationship-building. Please join us for an event that involves two components: an interactive, in-person panel led conversation on March 23rd about how we can see the humanity in one another across differences which will integrate highlights from the award-winning documentary, The Reunited States; and a corresponding online viewing of the full documentary that you can view at your convenience between March 20-25th.

On March 23rd, we will hear from three panelists who hold divergent perspectives as we engage in civil conversations with one another about how we can work together to build trust in and across our communities. This conversation will be a space for collective reflection about how we can translate feelings of mistrust and frustration into bridge-building action steps. For those who view The Reunited States in advance, the film may inspire solution-oriented ideas regarding some of the key issues facing the United States today.
Talking Together: Strengthening Our Communities Through Conversation

Tired of the toxic level of polarization in the U.S.? Interested in talking with people whose perspective differs from your own in ways that stay constructive? We invite you to join us for a year focused on creating a culture of conversation rather than division. 
The Padnos/Sarosik Center for Civil Discourse, Kaufman Interfaith Institute, Hauenstein Center for Presidential Studies, and WGVU Public Media are pleased to partner for Talking Together: Strengthening our Communities through Conversation, a dialogue initiative aimed at interrupting polarization and investing in the principles of civil discourse and respectful conversation. Each month will feature at least one structured activity for students, staff, faculty, and community members to engage in conversation with one other across differences in perspective, identity, and life experiences.
Kaufman Summer Interfaith Service Day Camp
June 12, 2023 - June 19, 2023 (9am-3pm daily)

Registration Open Now!

This summer, the Kaufman Interfaith institute will host our fourth annual Interfaith Summer Service Day Camp with the theme of “Interfaith and Cross-Cultural Equity.” This week-long learning experience is geared toward middle- and high-school age students, of all religious, spiritual, and secular backgrounds, in the greater Grand Rapids area.

During the week, students are exposed to numerous learning opportunities via sacred site visits, volunteering at local service agencies, and interactive simulations.This year, the Summer Day Camp will foster interfaith cooperation, develop student leadership, and provide tools to build an equitable community. Our exploration of these issues aims  to help students 1.)  better understand the lived experiences of members of our communities; 2.) identify barriers and equip students with leadership tools to overcome them; and 3.) develop strategies for making West Michigan a more welcoming and inclusive place for all.
Registration is $100 per student and includes transportation to and from site visits, lunch, snacks, and a camp t-shirt.

Events In The Community

Meeting Our Spiritual Neighbors: An Interfaith Dinner Series
On Islam with Simin N Beg
Wednesday, March 15, 2023 | 6:00 PM

East Church UCC, Grand Rapids, MI

Spend an evening enjoying fine food from around the world and hearing from experts about the history and tenants of their faith. Each month we will highlight a different religion paired with food regionally associated with the faith tradition, catered from local restaurants. Due to religious dietary restrictions our meals will be vegetarian so that all can participate. We hope this series will serve as a reminder to our community that our diversity and unity makes us stronger.

This month's presenter on Islam is Simin N Beg.
Registration is required, and space is limited. Suggested donation of $20 per person is requested.
Greater Grand Rapids End of Life Coalition
Implicit Bias: Culturally Sensitive Care for the Seriously Ill and Dying
Greater Grand Rapids End of Life Coalition
Thursday, March 23, 2023 | 8:00 AM - 12:30 PM
Tabernacle Community Church
2530 Eastern Avenue SE Grand Rapids, MI 49507

Everyone wants and deserves respect and dignity from healthcare providers. When we do not understand another's cultural background, we run the risk of falling short of best practices in caring for those with serious illness or at end-of-life; a situation that does not allow "do-overs." 

This conference will help participants discover their own implicit bias through self-reflection. You will learn from experts in the field on ways to improve organizational outreach to people with various cultural backgrounds and acquire organizational tools/resources to develop program metrics designed to improve culturally appropriate care.
Interfaith Passover
Tuesday, March 28, 2023 | 7:00 PM
Temple Emanuel, Grand Rapids, MI

Temple Emanuel is extending an invitation to members of the Grand Rapids community to join them for a "Taste of Passover." This model seder will include a sampling of the Seder liturgy and music, a tasting of Passover foods, and a chance to ask questions and to dialogue.
The cost to attend is $15 per person. To reserve a spot, please contact cathy@grtemple.org or call the Temple office at 616-459-5976.
The deadline to RSVP is Friday, March 24.