In addition to hosting discussions on religion, Bucknell’s multifaith fellows gather for community dinners throughout the semester.
Photo: Emily Paine

Faithful Friends

New faith-focused fellowship program brings Bucknellians of varied beliefs together

It’s rare to find a place where thorny “dinner-table topics” are not only welcomed but encouraged. At Bucknell, a new multifaith fellowship program aims to create a constructive space for students to build community across religious lines.

“It’s no secret that religion can often be a difficult subject to converse around, but we also know that Bucknell students are immensely curious about other people,” says Director of Religious & Spiritual Life Kurt Nelson, who worked with Bucknell’s Muslim and Jewish chaplains to launch the program in fall 2021. “Students come in expecting to learn about a range of nationalities, racial and cultural identities, and religions. We want to create healthy, meaningful opportunities to do that.”

Funded by a yearlong grant from the Interfaith Youth Core, the multifaith fellowship brought 14 students together for rich weekly discussions about a range of religious themes and experiences — from baby-naming ceremonies to the classic question of whether all dogs go to heaven. Each conversation invited students to share personal narratives about faith, religion and spirituality as well as texts from their traditions or other meaningful literature.

But students didn’t need to have a firm religious affiliation to participate. To make room for as many diverse perspectives as possible, the fellowship welcomed anyone with the slightest interest in the dynamics of faith.

“I feel like I’m less religious and more spiritual,” says Brie LaPree-Chavez ’25, an animal behavior major from Guilford, Conn. “Part of what drew me to this was the fact that you could be any sort of background — Christian, spiritual, atheist, whatever.

“It’s not often that you find a bunch of people who are really engaged in talking about religion,” she adds. “The fellowship gave us a space to learn and talk deeply about how our beliefs impact our lives.”

A favorite activity of animal behavior major Ibrahim Ware ’24 was a series of short, rotational conversations called “speed faithing,” where students spent a few minutes one-on-one asking and answering questions about their faith.

“Islam doesn’t always get the best representation, so I enjoyed the chance to share and expand my knowledge as well,” Ware says. “Religions aren’t just a set of principles and doctrines — they’re made up of people. The most impactful thing for me was getting to make connections with other people.”

Those connections are key to building religious literacy, “which is so civically important,” Nelson says. “It’s such a fruitful entry point for empathy, community-building and partnership.”