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The Spotlight Is on Interfaith Youth: Better Together Day, World Faith, and More

By Shani Belshaw, Parliament of the World’s Religions Intern

The global interfaith movement is expanding rapidly through youth engagement.  Building impact through innovative approaches to dialogue and action, the spotlight on interfaith youth organizations is bright in recent weeks.

  • World Faith-Interfaith Youth In Action announced the introduction of three new members of its Board of Directors, Alexandra Karasavva, Rev. Jennifer Bailey, and Savneet Singh.
    • Karasavva graduated from NYU with a major in Middle Eastern Studies and international politics. She has worked for eight years as the Director at TransPerfect Translations, a global business solutions provider.
    • Rev. Jennifer Bailey is a Nathan Cummings Fellow and Truman Scholar; she leads a multi-faith movement and organizes community events as the Founder and Executive Director of the Faith Matters Network (FMN).
    • Savneet Singh is a Cornell University alumnus, where he majored in Applied Economics and Management. He is the Founder and President of Gold Bullion International (GBI), the first electronic business where individuals can buy, sell, and trade physical precious metals.

Read more about these new World Faith Board here.

It’s time to get the word out for “Better Together Day” on April 14th.

The campaign by Interfaith Youth Core is all about getting our world more connected because we really are better together.

It all starts with a pledge.

For Better Together Day you pledge to meet someone from a different religious or non-religious background and start a conversation with him or her about what they believe and about your beliefs as well.  These conversations break down the stereotype that you can’t casually talk about religion with someone that you don’t know very well, a stereotype that isn’t true at all.

Click here to take the Better Together Day Pledge right now!

IFYC’s website offers many tips on how to start a conversation and even a shared values toolkit. The website has a lot of great ideas on how to get more involved on “Better Together Day”. One way they mention is by “speedfaithing”, which is where you spend 20 minutes learning about a religious tradition the other partakes in. Another idea to get involved is to take a new friend selfie: introduce yourself to a stranger, tell them about “Better Together Day”, share something meaningful with each other, and then snap a selfie with them!

There is even a “Better Together Day” Conversation Space on Facebook! 

Take the pledge and let your friends know about “Better Together Day”. We are in a world blessed with technology, but we are still disconnected as ever. Religious tension globally is at a six year high. We should all be using social media like Twitter and Facebook to stay more connected. Use the hashtag, #WeAreBetterTogether to let all your followers know about this amazing movement.

IFYC is partnering a network of 3.6 million young advocates that take on global issues. will work with IFYC to promote dialogue through the “One Text Under God(s)” program.

All you do is text IFYC to 38283 and you can have the chance to ask four IFYC members from four different backgrounds about their faith; Thomas is an atheist; Keryn is a Mormon, Pavitra is a Hindu, and Sara Rahim, a Muslim, who is an IFYC alum and serves the Parliament as a UN youth representative.

Read about Sara Rahim in this recent profile featured in “The Muslim Observer”

When Sara Rahim recounts the details of her past accomplishments, it is with a breezy, cheerful tone. This is at once disarming and refreshing, given that they are long and of the highest caliber, especially for a person so young: the twenty-three-year old’s résumé is peppered with accolades from the State Department, the United Nations, and the White House, to name a few.

But for someone who thinks so globally, who speaks a laundry list of languages, her recipe for changing the world, Rahim says, starts simply: with sharing a meal, or starting a conversation.

It is this attitude that propelled her to the UN stage on February 6, 2015 as the youth keynote speaker for World Interfaith Harmony Week. Rahim has served as the Youth Representative of the Parliament of the World’s Religions for a year, one of the oldest interfaith organizations in the world.

Continue reading…

Congratulations to these emerging leaders. All young and bold interfaith advocates are invited to bring their talent and energy to this year’s 2015 Parliament at reduced student rates! Check it out here. 

Parliament Communications Team Member Nafia Khan contributed to this article.  

‘Why the U.S. Needs Interfaith Groups’ – the Opinion of a Youth Interfaith Leader

Via Adam Gerstenfeld,  Parliament Ambassador, IFYC Advisory Board Member for USA TODAY: Within hours of hearing about the killing of three Muslim students, I had been invited to three different prayer vigils for the deceased. All of my invitations came from college interfaith groups.

And then my Twitter blew up — #MuslimLivesMatter was suddenly a trending topic worldwide, prompting an international conversation on media double standards, hate-crime prosecution and Islamophobia in the U.S.


Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, Razan Abu-Salha, three Muslim Americans who died in a shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina sparking an outcry of interfaith love in the United States, and giving new attention to hate in the United States. The families of the victims have asked that the crime be investigated as a hate crime..

While the positive response for the prayer vigils and social media wave is heartening, I want to know that these conversations are going somewhere. America today is the most religiously diverse it has ever been in its entire history, while religious tensions around the world are steadily rising.

But the cries for more interfaith cooperation are few and far between, and when they are addressed — such as when President Obama spoke during the National Prayer Breakfast — thespeakers are excoriated for addressing some of the more uncomfortable topics.

That is why it is so important to take look at why our generation is trying to change those tides.

Currently I serve on the National Advisory Board for the Interfaith Youth Core, the largest college interfaith organization in the United States. I was a panelist at the 2014 North American Interfaith Network national conference, and founder of University of Florida’s Interfaith Ambassadors.


Looming Deadlines: Interfaith Youth Leadership Training Via IFYC

Interfaith Youth Core training dates for young activists approaching soon require swift registrations. To join Chicago’s conference, youth registration is today. Upcoming registration dates loom for area conferences in New York, Atlanta, and Los Angeles planned between now and February, 2014.

$299 buys:

Interfaith Leadership Institutes (ILIs) equip undergraduate students, staff, and faculty with the skills to engage diverse religious and non-religious identities to build the interfaith movement on their campuses.

At the ILI:

  • Students train to be interfaith leaders who build relationships across identities, tell powerful stories to bridge divides, and mobilize their campuses through interfaith projects.
  • Staff and faculty network with other higher education professionals, share best practices, and partner with their students to transform their campuses
  • All participants learn how the Better Together campaign and the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge can be catalysts for campus change.

Upcoming ILIs - The standard fee to attend an ILI is $299 (lodging and travel not included). Make sure to check the registration pages for discount and scholarship information.

  • Chicago ILI: June 21-23, 2013
    Final Registration Deadline: June 6, 2013
  • NYC ILI: August 11-13, 2013
    Early Bird Deadline ($50 off): June 6, 2013
    Final Registration Deadline: July 30, 2013
  • Atlanta ILI: January 31, 2014 – February 2, 2014
    Los Angeles ILI: February 15-17, 2014
    *Official Registration Launch on August, 15, 2013

Questions? Email

June 6th, 2013 at 1:54 am

A Better Way to Talk About Faith

Students at an Interfaith Youth Core event in Washington, DC in 2011. Photo from NYTimes

by David Bornstein
from the New York Times

Is there a way to overcome religious intolerance?

Given global demographic changes, it’s a vital question. “The most certain prediction that we can make about almost any modern society is that it will be more diverse a generation from now than it is today,” the political scientist Robert D. Putnam has written. “This is true from Sweden to the United States and from New Zealand to Ireland.”

In the United States, the question holds special significance for the simple reason that American society is highly religious and highly diverse and — on matters concerning faith — considerably more politically polarized than a quarter-century ago.

The United States prides itself on welcoming people of different faiths. The Bill of Rights begins with a guarantee of freedom of worship. In 1790, George Washington sent a letter to a Jewish congregation in which he expressed his wish that they “continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants,” and declared that the government “gives to bigotry no sanction.” In 2010, Mayor Bloomberg’s impassioned and courageous defense of the Cordoba House — the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” — became an important addition to a long and noble tradition of inclusion. (It’s a speech worth reading.)

But while there have been widespread efforts over the past generation to promote and celebrate ethnic and racial diversity — everything from “Sesame Street” to multicultural studies to work force sensitivity training — the one topic that has often been kept off the table is faith. Americans have grown more comfortable talking about race, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation, but not faith. It’s too personal, too divisive, too explosive. How do you conduct a productive conversation among people whose cherished beliefs — exclusive God-given truths — cannot be reconciled?

That’s a process that a Chicago-based organization called the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) has refined into something between an art and a science, demonstrating how to bring college students together across faith and belief lines so that they develop greater respect, comfort and appreciation for one another and their traditions.

Click here to read the full article

Talking the ‘Hereafter’ with atheists and believers

From The Huffington Post

A couple weeks ago, I attended the launch of the Faith Project with my friend, Miranda. We sat in the back, in close proximity to the tasty treats, and listened to amazing religious people talk about how their backgrounds inspire them to fight for justice and equality for all. Although we stood in solidarity with these interfaith activists, Ms. Hovemeyer and I came from a far different perspective than our religious compatriots did. We both identify as agnostics, and together, we help make up the Secular Humanist Alliance of Chicago.

And as I expected, one puzzled audience member interrogated us as to our involvement in interfaith. As an agnostic passionate about work erroneously perceived as only involving religious people, I get questions like his all the time: Why do you care about religious work?

And another personal favorite: Aren’t you guys against religion?

A: We’re not.

Click here to read more.

November 18th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

White House Hosts IFYC Interfaith Leadership Institute


On October 22-24, 2010, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships will host a two-day intensive training facilitated by Interfaith Youth Core for 100 interfaith student leaders and 50 campus staff allies in Washington, D.C. The program is designed to equip interfaith student leaders with the skills to lead IFYC’s campaign for interfaith cooperation on campus, “Better Together.”  Student participants will learn how to speak out on the importance of interfaith cooperation on their campus, mobilize their communities to take action, and sustain their efforts to create a lasting impact on campus.  In a concurrent training track, campus staff will be equipped launch new or build on existing interfaith programming on campus as well as support student leaders in these initiatives.

Click here to learn more.

Steven Prothero Blogs on Religion

From CNN,

Religion isn’t just for Republicans any more.srp9.130

One key to President Obama’s 2008 election victory was his willingness to speak openly about his personal faith and to connect the dots between his public policies and biblical values.

In his inaugural address, he famously described the United States not as a secular nation or a Christian nation but “a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and non-believers.”

Yesterday that patchwork nation was on display at the White House in an event on interfaith and community service on college campuses co-sponsored by the Obama administration’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and its Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.

I spoke at this event about the necessity of moving out of the rut of Interfaith 1.0, which all too often made interfaith gatherings look like clubs of like-minded liberals patting themselves on the back for viewing all religions as different paths up the same mountain.

I am happy to report that Interfaith 2.0 was very much on display yesterday at the White House. Joshua DuBois, executive director of Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, spoke repeatedly about the need for “authenticity” in interreligious work — of welcoming theological liberals and conservatives alike into the conversation and not insisting on a “syncretism” where all religions are presumed to be essentially the same.

Click here to read more.

June 19th, 2010 at 6:00 am

U.S Foreign Policy-Facilitating Religious Dialogue?

From a blog entry posted on PeaceNext,

On Tuesday night, June 10th in Chicago, Dirk Ficca, Eboo Patel, and Afeefa Syeed convened as part of a panel discussion moderated by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs entitled, “Engaging Religious Communities Abroad: One Year Post-Cairo”.

For those unfamiliar with these speakers, Dirk Ficca is the executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, Eboo Patel is the executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, and Afeefa Syeed is a
senior advisor at the USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) Middle East and Asia sectors. The panel marked the anniversary of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo one year ago, wherein he made it an agenda of U.S. foreign policy to understand and promote religious diversity in its interactions with other nations. This would turn out to be an historic moment in U.S. foreign relations, as it admitted to its failure to adequately address the dynamics associated with an increasingly pluralistic world, as well as raising awareness of an inherent respect owed to religious and spiritual beliefs that had hitherto been, for the most part, ignored by the U.S. government.

The discussion was insightful and enlightening for those in attendance. It highlighted the great need for an appreciation of religious and spiritual life in foreign policy as well as society in general. Considering that each speaker is affiliated with different social and government agencies that do very different work, they were able to offer perspectives that allowed for a more comprehensive vision of what it means to promote public engagement of religious beliefs within a broad social context. Dirk Ficca noted the salience of religious and spiritual values in the human condition, its great contributions to political and social changes for present and past cultures, as well as the crisis it sometimes presents when a religion becomes embedded in political norms. Eboo Patel added to these comments by stressing the realities of a world becoming ever-more populated by youth who possess a power and presence in the global marketplace of ideas. Not only that, he appreciated the sensitivity of late adolescents and young adults who are searching for a sense of identity and a means for affecting a change in the world, all the while being influenced “by the winds of religion”, as he put it. Lastly, Afeefa Syeed added to these thoughts by offering her experience within a U.S. agency that is in the midst of a transition. This transition is intended to acknowledge religion as a major influencing factor in the areas U.S. representatives are working, and the ways in which the USAID is functioning more as a partner or mediator in communities, rather than as an authoritarian entity. One poignant description she had of this was working with a economically deprived community in Karachi, where her function was to ask the community leaders what was RIGHT or GOOD about their community, and working from that point forward in developing a plan to help.

Overall, each speaker agreed on the main points of their separate discussions. These points included the innate ability of religion to effect great good in the world, the increased need, now more than ever, for recognition among national and social entities regarding the value of religion and spirituality as a human quality that is neither diminishing nor able to be quenched, and the U.S.’s responsibility to respect and acknowledge this character in the myriad ways it is manifested in the world.

As with any discussion that is limited to only a few hours, however, there were several probing questions asked by both the moderators and members of the audience. One of these asked what the roles of non-profit organizations are for interfaith experiences. The moderator of the event, Rachel Bronson, asked a popular question, at least within the U.S., whether it might not be better to ignore or suppress religious identities, considering its tendency to influence violence in the world along with peace. Lastly, one question I was left with as an audience member was whether U.S. foreign policy is truly intent on becoming an active participant of religious dialogue for its fundamental worth, or whether this has simply been deemed an appropriate means for securing its own interests in a world it now recognizes as essentially religious. I leave these questions for you, users of PeaceNext, to ponder, as well as to comment on your perceptions of the panel discussion in general.

Click here to join PeaceNext and contribute to the conversation!

Rev. Dirk Ficca Interviewed by IFYC

In September 2009 the Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) sat down for a video interview with Erin Williams of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).  In addition to providing images and context for the organization over the last century, the conversation touched on the fruits of our Barcelona event, the promise of Melbourne and Dirk’s original encounter with the interreligious movement.

The interview is hosted on our YouTube account in two installments.

For Part One, click here.

For Part Two, click here.