Rev. Paul Verhoef, Christian Reformed campus pastor at the University of Calgary in Alberta, was one of the organizers of the recently launched Kaleidoscope Project helping students become more interculturally inclusive.
“If you’ve been at the Faith and Spirituality Centre lately you’ve seen that we have a description of ‘pluralism’ posted on our wall,” said Verhoef. Pluralism involves moving beyond the acknowledgement of differences to understanding, action and respect to build a better world. “It’s slowly becoming a central idea around which we as staff and chaplains operate,” he explained.
Growing out of that description, The Kaleidoscope Project was organized by the Faith and Spirituality Centre to encourage a more inclusive campus community through the experience of religious diversity and the development of religious literacy. It was influenced by theologian Miroslav Volf’s book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World.
Verhoef was part of a group of 16 university students who retreated together during reading week in February to discover rich experiences within six faith traditions: Hinduism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam.
For each faith tradition, the group listened to an introductory lecture by a religious leader and then visited local sites associated with that community. Over the week, they visited 12 sacred sites and ended each day with discussion and reflection. They explored recent Canadian cases where religious practice intersected with the public sphere. For example, What are some of the perspectives around having a Sikh kirpan (a small ceremonial dagger) worn in an elementary school? Who might be invested in a decision to allow the Muslim Call to Prayer to be projected in a small, historically Polish Catholic town? Meals together also played an important part in experiencing different cultures.
As part of a research project, students completed the Intercultural Development Inventory. It indicated that many of them had moved 30 points—on a continuum—toward intercultural competency and inclusion.
At the end of the week, one student said, “The Kaleidoscope Project is the single most inspiring program that I have ever come across to learn about religious diversity in a safe and immersive environment.” Another said one of the most important insights for her was learning to ask questions and not shy away from hard conversations. “Being in the presence of others who are so curious yet respectful and courageous to ask questions taught me a lot as to how I can do it too.”
Verhoef said that learning about other religions has strengthened his own faith. “In my 11 years of working alongside of chaplains of other faiths (Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, and other Christian denominations), encountering religious diversity has strengthened my own faith commitment both by highlighting differences like unconditional grace, covenant faithfulness, and Gods’ sovereignty, and challenging me to grow in places like faithful prayer and focused attention or meditation on God’s Word.”