Within hours of her arrival from Indonesia to Eastern Mennonite University, Fulbright Scholar Dr.Syafaatun Almirzanah had a new friend. At the faculty/staff picnic, five-year-old Julian Nussbaum tugged on her shalwar kameez, whispered in her ear and made sure she had enough food. Their budding friendship was a small symbol of the work of his mother, Trina Trotter Nussbaum ’00, the newly named interim director of the Center for Interfaith Engagement.
Since 2009, under the guidance of first-year director Gerald Shenk and then Ed Martin for the following six years, the center has worked to promote intercultural and inter-religious understanding. Nussbaum’s leadership ensures a seamless transition; as the former associate director, she has been an active contributor to the center’s past accomplishments and future activities.
“CIE’s challenge today is to strengthen relationships across religious and ideological divides while still being honest about our differences,” she said. “Like Jesus, we must not keep quiet in this age of extreme social polarization, but be rooted in justice in the face of oppression, and open to engaging with those who have a worldview different from our own.” A first step in her new role was to initiate a search for an Interfaith Peace Camp program coordinator.
A flagship program since 2008, the peace camp has provided a model for children’s interfaith programming in the United States and Canada. New coordinator Jennifer Perry will work in conjunction with local Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities to build new and sustainable programming.
The center targets efforts on the local, national and global levels, with notable accomplishments including:
- Ongoing research of local intra- and interfaith structures to create a community-wide network to prevent religiously motivated violence;
- Outreach to local partners, including the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Interfaith Coalition and Faith in Action (see photo at left), as well as religious leaders of different denominations, to increase dialogue and understanding;
- Hosting of four visiting scholars, including Dr. Almirzanah, to teach undergraduate courses and offer a range of community events;
- Offering a popular film series in 2014, 2015 and 2016 taught by visiting Jewish scholar Dr. Bob Bersson;
- Securing funding for Iranians to attend EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute and Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience (STAR) training;
- Hosting and facilitating a 2011 conference on Moroccan religious freedom at EMU;
- Participating in off-campus interfaith events, including a 2014 cross– cultural trip to Iran and a 2015 workshop on faith and trauma in Chicago.