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Religious studies professor selected to participate in national seminar on teaching interfaith understanding

Suzanne Bessenger leads a discussion during one of her religious studies courses at Randolph.

Suzanne Bessenger leads a discussion during one of her religious studies courses at Randolph.

Suzanne Bessenger has been selected from a competitive, national pool of nominees to participate in a faculty seminar on the teaching of interfaith understanding. The seminar is offered by the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), with support from the Henry Luce Foundation.

Bessenger, a religious studies professor at Randolph, and 25 other faculty members will participate in the five-day Teaching Interfaith Understanding seminar July 31–Aug. 4 at DePaul University in Chicago, Ill. The seminar will be led by two leading scholars: Eboo Patel, founder and president of IFYC, a Chicago-based organization building the interfaith movement on college campuses; and Laurie Patton, president of Middlebury College, former dean of Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, and the Robert F. Durden Professor of Religion at Duke University. The program aims to broaden faculty members’ knowledge and strengthen their teaching of interfaith understanding, with the development of new courses and resources.

“Strengthening the teaching of interfaith understanding at colleges and universities is a high priority at a time when college enrollment—and American society—is becoming more diverse,” said Richard Ekman, CIC president. “Strengthening participation in American life with greater understanding of the distinctive contributions of different faiths is a key to America’s future success as a democracy.”

As part of her application, Bessenger was required to write an essay about her approaches to teaching religious pluralism and how Randolph might benefit from a professor pursuing the subject in an in-depth manner.

“Lynchburg is an extremely interesting place to study religion in the United States, and many of the questions posed by the project of religious pluralism arise on a daily basis for our students,” Bessenger said. “I had already begun to address these questions in my Religions of Asia class via the work of Eboo Patel and Diana Eck, so participation in this project seemed like a logical next step. I am excited to have the opportunity to bring Randolph students’ questions and experiences to those thinkers on the forefront of this work.”

At Randolph, Bessenger and her students explore the definition of religion and how it has shaped human history and their daily lives.

“I have found that Randolph students are imminently practical,” she said. “They are concerned about the future of both our national and international communities, and they recognize that finding responsible ways to approach religious difference is, and will continue to be, a project of utmost importance.”

For more information about the seminar, visit

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