New Study Tracks the Effectiveness of Interfaith Engagement Strategies

Today’s college students are more likely to participate in conversations about gender, race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, and ability than they are to discuss religious experiences, according to the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a nonprofit dedicated to bridging differences in faiths and worldviews. An IFYC study, conducted in partnership with The Ohio State University and North Carolina State University, focuses on developing strategies to increase more interfaith campus experiences.

The Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) collects information from 7,194 students at 122 diverse institutions. Researchers track participants for four years to see how their campus experiences affect their worldviews and acceptance of religious pluralism.

The first surveys were administered to freshman students in fall 2015, with a follow-up conducted in spring 2016. Initial results showed that exposure to other faiths through campus experiences expanded worldviews and acceptance of opposing beliefs for freshman students. More recent results, however, found that engagement in religious diversity drops after freshman year.

The initial surveys also found several key factors affect students’ attitudes toward different religious groups, including having a welcoming and inclusive campus climate. When students have opportunities to form close friendships with people who have different worldviews, they become more open-minded. Opportunities for spiritual expression — such as organizations that allow students to explore and share their views with others — and the presence of campus educators who can support them in this process also impact acceptance of other religions. Finally, when colleges and universities disseminate knowledge about different faiths, students tend to show a greater degree of acceptance.

Already, innovative scholarship on interfaith engagement is growing based on IDEALS data collected by researchers at institutions across the country — with the shared goal of shaping a more knowledgeable and tolerant generation.●

This article was published in our April 2018 issue.