Interfaith and Higher Education (Part 5): Quality Vs. Quantity of Interfaith Programs

This is the fifth article in a several part series throughout this quarter, written by Nic Cable, focusing on the complexities of interfaith work in higher education. These articles are in conjunction with an academic independent study project on the same themes.

Upon reflection of this weekend’s interfaith events, I noticed a rising concern in my heart after one event was cancelled and the other totaled three attendees: where is the equilibrium between quality and quantity of interfaith programs so as to maintain a successful interfaith movement at a higher educational institution? For example, this year at DePaul University, we have seen a rapid increase of interfaith programs, which have yielded many new opportunities for individuals to become involved in the movement. However, at the same time, this has produced smaller turnouts to events because some individuals are unable to fit so many interfaith events into their already busy schedules. The reflection thus resides around how interfaith leaders (mainly those in college) can work to enhance both quality of programs while maintaining a good level of attendance.

I do not think that lower numbers of attendees to interfaith events necessarily causes the quality to go down. On the contrary, the field trip to the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette this weekend was a phenomenal experience. We had a great time walking around the grounds, admiring the beautiful architecture and landscaping. We sat through a wonderful service with members of the religious community there. Afterwards on the commute home, we had an engaging conversation on the distinct nature of a Baha’i religious service and how important it is for people of all religious traditions and backgrounds to experience this unique tradition shares with the world.

If this is the case, that interfaith events can be small in attendees, but high in quality, how can we or should we address the question of equilibrium as stated above? As long as people are attending events and enjoying them, high frequency should not be a real concern for interfaith organizers. However, if it is possible to maintain the high quality and raise the attendance of a particular event, say by more marketing and time between events, that could be preferable to create an excitement and true community feeling within the interfaith community. This is most definitely the goal: enhancing the interfaith community. If some one could only attend an event every few weeks because they are too busy, while other people are attending events in the meantime, then it may be possible for that person to feel alienated from the group because of lack of attendance. Therefore, it is critical to consider which people are not able to attend specific events and what effect that may have on group dynamics.

All in all, quality is the goal of interfaith programming. Even more so, though, is building a beautifully diverse and sustainable communities where all can grow and learn as people of diverse backgrounds, religious or otherwise. Programming is crucial, but building a community must be our priority.