The yearlong Interfaith Fellows Program trains undergraduate students to become more knowledgeable about different religious traditions and more skilled at communicating with people from other religious backgrounds. The Center’s goal is to provide our Fellows (and eventually other students whom they help involve in campus interfaith events and programming) with the knowledge and skills to surmount the barriers of religious difference and to become interfaith leaders in whatever career trajectories the future might hold for them.
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As-Salamuʿalaykum! My name is Rida Ali and I am a junior studying Political Science and International Studies, while pursuing certificates in Political Economy, Philosophy, and Politics, and Asian American Studies. I was born and raised in central India, and moved to Milwaukee, WI when I was young. My family and I are practicing Muslims, so growing up in a country as diverse as India had a profound impact on my perspective on religion and the value of respect and co-existence. With sociopolitical conflicts stemming from religious differences rising around the world, especially in my home country of India, I believe it is more important than ever to engage in productive interfaith dialogue to build more meaningful connections and understanding that can, hopefully, play a small but valuable role in creating a more inclusive campus and world. With the CRGC Interfaith Fellowship, I hope to learn more about the role religion plays in other Fellows’ lives and work together to dismantle prejudices to achieve our shared goals of creating more inclusivity and community.
Hi! My name is Sean Barada, a Mechanical Engineering junior here at UW. I grew up in California and was raised as a Roman Catholic. Every Sunday until my confirmation when I was 14, I attended Sunday school at my local church. My deep interest in religion, however, began during high school. I attended a private catholic school that was able to teach religions from across the world in depth, unlike many public schools in the area. It opened my mind to the beauty of all religion. My interest in religion continued through my general education requirements, expanding into philosophy and history as well. When the pandemic struck, I was able to take time away from my studies, allowing me to contemplate my beliefs and strengthen my connection to the world around me. I would still identify as Roman Catholic if asked today, but believe that all religions have facets that can improve the human experience—offering a deep connection to the minds of our ancestors
My background took me from a Christian kindergarten and elementary school, to a Hindu middle school, and a secular, perhaps Perennialist, high school — while my parents delved into various guruships and forms of Eastern mysticism. This background has led me to want to reconcile different faiths’ philosophies in my own life and thinking, lately adapting them in process philosophy, but also something I continue to explore. For me, the religious experience is two-fold. While most recently I’ve been concerned about the intellectual aspects of religion, I am also seeking practice and the emotional side. Maybe you could say I yearn for an instinctual faith, which nevertheless remains rational — one that can be integrated into my career and life. Ultimately, the fellowship will help me in my search, and I hope my participation in the fellowship helps others as well.
Good day! My name is Jonathan Bryan, and I am a third-year student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison majoring in Neurobiology, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Psychology. I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, in a Catholic household. Over this past summer, I began to explore and interact with religious identities beyond my own to gain greater insight into different beliefs and practices. I consider religion, or lack thereof, an integral component of one’s identity and how an individual understands life, ethics, morals, and relationships. As a pre-medicine student, I’m intrigued to learn more about how religion influences health comprehension and care. Interreligious dialogue through the CRGC Fellowship will provide me the opportunity to investigate my own faith, other world beliefs, and how religion influences healthcare, which I will extend into my professional life.
Hi, my name is Walter Camp, and I’m a Junior in the biochemistry major. I was born and raised on a farm in rural Minnesota. I grew up without any semblance of religion in my house. Partly because of my detachment from organized religion and spirituality on the whole, I found an interest in the philosophy of religion and its different sociological aspects throughout high school and college. I still don’t consider myself to formally practice any religion, but I have found a particular interest in learning about Taoism and other practices that delve into meditation. I am excited to continue my own learning of others’ faith as well as help encourage thoughtful communication wherever I can because I think trying to understand viewpoints beyond what I’ve ever had the chance to consider is exciting.
Hello, my name is Ben Charnecki. I am from Milwaukee. Currently, I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am studying Philosophy and Creative Writing. I love tennis, debate, surfing, and hiking. A significant percentage of my family is Mormon, but I was brought up to find my own faith. Through my personal journey, I not only gained a deeper understanding of myself, but a deeper understanding of what faith means to other people. I developed an outlook that works for me through philosophy, but I am here to learn more about the beliefs of those around me. It is incredibly important that we strive to understand the religions, cultures, and values of others. As an interfaith fellow, I plan to play a part in cultivating dialogue between perspectives. I also plan to develop events around campus exploring philosophical questions through a multitude of faith-based lenses.
Hello! My name is Emerson Cronheim-Strasser and I am a sophomore majoring in Social Work and Psychology. I grew up in a Jewish household, understanding the importance of my Jewish identity. Both sides of my family were in the Holocaust, and for me, Judaism helps me keep their stories and memories alive. I love being surrounded by the Jewish community and teaching others about it. However, my understanding of other religions is minimal and I want to learn about other communities and how they intersect. Using religion as a means for social justice is incredibly important to me, and I am excited to explore this with everyone.
My name is Sarah Eckhardt, and I am a senior studying Economics with a math emphasis. I grew up in a Reform Jewish household here in Madison, and recently returned from a semester abroad in Jerusalem. Religions fascinate me for two reasons; how they relate to economic institutions, and what they teach us about the human experience. I do not believe that any single religious tradition holds all the answers to the big questions of human life, nor that only religions hold them. But a serious consideration of what it means to be alive cannot be made without exploring them. I look forward to learning from my peers about their experiences with faith, and discovering all the ways it influences our worlds.
Salam, you guys! My name is Ghaida Edreis, and I am a current senior pursuing Legal Studies with Middle Eastern Studies and Criminal Justice degrees. I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, lived there till I was three years old, and I was reared primarily in Libya, Tripoli, before moving to the United States. So, basically, I’ve noticed disparities between identification and religion, and I’ve learnt a lot, but most importantly, that I am my own person as a result of it. My entire family is a devout Muslim; therefore, I was raised with good information and lessons that helped me grow closer to my religion. Nonetheless, I developed a strong attachment to it. While I am extremely strong in my faith, I also like learning about different religions that I am not familiar with! That is why I decided to participate in the CRGC Interfaith Fellowship: to freely discuss our faiths, why we believe in them, and how they affect us. This fellowship may also provide excellent connections and a community where we can meet others who share our faith’s interests! Through this program, I wish to develop a better understanding of various religions and their customs.
Mohamed El Ragaby
Hi, my name is Mohamed El Ragaby, and I am a fourth-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Biology on a pre-optometry track. I grew up in Windsor, ON Canada in a Muslim household and a large Muslim community. Having grown up around many Muslims and attending majority Muslim schools, I was able to interact with different religious backgrounds beyond my own. I consider religion an integral part of my identity and what gives me anchorage in life. As a pre-health major, I am focused on integrating my religion beliefs and practices into that field. I believe that by engaging in fruitful conversations in the CRGC fellowship, I will be able to investigate and connect with my own faith even deeper.
Hello! My name is Sophia, and I’m a senior majoring in English, History, and International Studies and pursuing certificates in European Studies, Art History, and Folklore Studies. Both sides of my family are Catholic, although the people in my life who have had the greatest impact on my faith are my mother and grandmothers. I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten to eighth grade and was confirmed in high school. Although my spirituality is important to me, as I have gotten older my religious beliefs and practices have not been informed only by Catholicism or the ideas put out by the church hierarchy. Interacting with my faith is important to me, but that doesn’t always happen within the church setting. I’m more inspired by personal interactions with people both in and outside of the faith, by the stories and lives of the saints, and by visiting religious sites. As a CRGC fellow I’m excited to talk to and learn from other people with different faith backgrounds (or no faith background at all) about the impact spirituality has had on their lives. I’m also excited to learn more about other religions while being able to share my own thoughts and experiences.
Hello! My name is Najma and I am a sophomore double majoring in Global health and Nursing and with a minor in digital studies. I grew up living across three continents being surrounded by a variety of religions. While I was raised in a practicing muslim household, having friends from other religions expanded my interest in faith from a young age. I spent 12 years of my life studying Islam whether in Islamic school or going to weekend school. The peak of my fascination with religion was my high school class about all different faiths and their origins. It wasn’t until studying the similarities between all religions did I realize interfaith conversations should be a priority. I hope that this will be a great opportunity to recognize and celebrate our similarities and differences.
Hello, my name is Hali Jama. I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying marketing and international business with a certificate in environmental studies. I grew up in a Muslim household in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, but I always had exposure to other religions especially through my friends. Most of us came from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, so we would often teach each other about our religions, and I was always intrigued by this. Islam has always been a big part of my life and my values. Through this program, I hope to gain more insight into other religions and their practices.
Hi! My name is Margaret Keuler and I am currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin–I am studying political science and public policy. I grew up in Kiel, Wisconsin and I was raised in the Catholic faith and attended Catholic school for most of my education. While I would no longer consider myself a part of the Catholic church, I appreciate my religious upbringing and the importance it holds in my family. This fellowship is a unique opportunity to hear more about other people’s perspectives and religious experiences. I really value that there is a space on campus that fosters these important conversations and look forward to being a part of the CRGC fellowship this upcoming year!
Hello, my name is Jacob, and I am a senior at UW-Madison studying history and political science. I was born in Massachusetts, and I also lived for many years in New Jersey. I am Jewish, but was raised in a fairly secular household, and I consider myself agnostic. Being Jewish is still an important part of my identity though. When it comes to the study of religion, I am particularly interested in the intersection of faith and modern ideas and ideology. I look forward to learning from others about their beliefs and helping to contribute to interfaith dialogue on campus. Hopefully, the progress we make can serve as a model for pluralism on a larger scale.
Hello! I’m Weijia Liang and I’m a senior majoring in Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies. Growing up in China and attending schools in the United States, I developed my personal practice by integrating 1) Buddhist approaches such as Zen meditation and nonduality-related philosophical reasoning; 2) Asian aesthetic/spiritual approaches such as Chinese calligraphy, tea, and zither; 3) Confucianism and Daoism-related moral reflections; 4) mindfulness approaches 5) social-psychological approach of religious research. I appreciate the meaning and beauty of all religions and feel moved by the power and strength that they have offered to people, and hope to understand the beautiful beliefs of our fellows as well as explore more in-depth my own spirituality.
My name is Savannah, and I am a senior majoring in Geology & Geophysics and Jewish Studies and pursuing certificates in Environmental Studies and Physics. I’ve lived in many places across the world but consider Fort Collins, Colorado to be home. I am Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household and primarily Jewish community until my mom married my step-dad and we became an interfaith household. This sparked my interest in learning about other theologies and faith communities. I have remained active in the Jewish community throughout college working at a Jewish summer camp, interning at Hillel, attending a local synagogue, and serving as a representative on Hillel International’s Student Cabinet. One of my greatest passions is faith-based environmentalism, and I am active in many Jewish environmental organizations. I founded the student organization Jews for Climate Justice, and I hope that the topic of faith-based environmental justice is something I can continue working on as a CRGC Interfaith Fellow. I am so excited to spend the year getting to know and work with a cohort of diverse students as a fellow with the CRGC.
Hello! My name is Allyson Mills and I am from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I am currently a senior at UW-Madison majoring in English and Music Performance with certificates in Leadership and European Studies. I was raised Catholic and currently attend Pres House on campus, where I lead an art-focused small group and sing on Music Team. Growing up, I have always been interested in how culture and religion impact how people view and conduct their lives, and I am so excited to learn more as a CRGC fellow this year. I am particularly interested in how faith intersects with other identity factors, art, music, and other creative works influenced by religion, how faith intersects with environmentalism, and how different religions impact people’s worldviews. When not at class or work, I enjoy making ceramics at Wheelhouse Studios, drawing and painting, hiking, cooking, biking, hanging out with my friends and partner, and exploring all that Madison has to offer!
Hi everyone, my name is Jinwan Park, and I am a Junior at UW-Madison studying political science. My hometown is Busan, Korea, a place famous for beautiful temples in the mountains. Although I was raised by a Buddhist mother and a Catholic father, I did not stick to a certain religious belief but always tried to explore the diversity of religion. My parents respected my choice not to have faith and taught me the importance of respect and openness in discussing one’s beliefs. That laid my foundation as a human being to respect others’ religions and remain open to the diversity of thoughts. I hope to learn more about the world of religion while sharing my modest view as a non-religious student through the course of my fellowship.
Hey, friends! My name is Jaden Schultz and I’m a sophomore studying Health Promotion and Health Equity and English. I was raised in Pewaukee, Wisconsin in a Lutheran household by parents of both Catholic and Lutheran upbringings. My mom was raised Catholic, and I’ve grown up hearing about her personal opinions, experiences, and perceived shortcomings and disappointments of the Catholic church. Oppositely, my father grew up in a Lutheran home and shared his own, more positive experiences with religion and religious upbringing. This opposition in religious encounters has stimulated my interest in analyzing how our individual experiences with religious groups leave lasting impacts on our lives, and how they form the way we view both our own and other religions. More specifically, I’m interested in dissecting how and why religious stereotypes exist, and what we can do to debunk these misconceptions. I look forward to learning more about how faith appears in individuals’ everyday lives, and I hope to join in on informative discourse on religious groups and systems that are unfamiliar to myself.
Hello! My name is Abby Stoa, and I am a Sophomore studying Education. While I was born in China, I was adopted in 2004 and grew up in Minnesota for most of my life. I am very excited to be a part of this fellowship and learn more about faiths and religions that differ from my own. As a Christian I often feel like we get a negative reputation due to the voices that follow a strict convervative and rigid set of “rules” based on the readings in the Bible. As someone who is a Person of Color and a member of the LGBT+ community, I want to share my story and perspective with others while hearing the origin and teachings of other religions and spiritualities.
Why am I interested in interreligious dialogue? Whether it was through attending an Islamic school in the U.S or critical contemplation that led me to a new philosophical outlook, religion has played an important role throughout my life. This experience provided me with an insightful perspective on the interplay of religion, culture, and assimilation. It was also an attest to the dangers of indoctrination and historical erasure of religious diversity. Now, I’m passionate about learning about different indigenous beliefs and the deeper roots behind traditional Abrahamic faiths.
Moreover, as an International Studies major, I know that my career path requires a certain level of intercultural understanding and background. Religion is an essential component of any country’s history and being able to understand the way individual faiths have shaped nations is crucial to fostering meaningful relationships between them. I hope to learn more about this divine aspect of politics through my fellowship.
Noelle Van Straten
My name is Noelle Van Straten and I am from Appleton, WI. I am a sophomore at UW-Madison studying political science and public policy. I was raised in a catholic family. I attended church on Sunday and religious classes on Wednesday nights and went through the sacraments. All along I never felt connected to the religion I was raised with and I resisted following the church every step of the way. When I reached high school, my mother gave me the option to be religious in whatever capacity I wanted and prompted me to explore other religions. I took her up on this offer, but I have yet to find any religion that I identify with or would like to practice. I currently consider myself an atheist, but I struggle with this because I think society associates negativity with atheists. Therefore, I am excited to take part in interfaith dialogue and discuss what others’ experiences with religion are like. I want to grow confident in my religious identity as well as better understand other religions.
Hi! My name is Jiaming, and I use she/her pronouns. I am from Beijing, China, and I am a senior majoring in Sociology, Legal Studies, and Theatre. Although I do not identify myself as having any religious affiliations, I have always been fascinated about it and would like to learn more about religious ideas. While having the honor to communicate with people from different backgrounds, I want to strengthen my understanding of religion and better connect it with society and the legal system to promote an environment with liberty and protected rights. I am excited to be part of the program 🙂