Evansville, Ind. (UMNS) – Rachael McGill admits she “knew pretty much next to nothing” about other religions before enrolling at the United Methodist-related University of Evansville.

Raised in a Roman Catholic family and educated at a Catholic high school in nearby Newburgh, Ind., she had little exposure to other major faith groups, including Protestants.

But an introductory class on world religion at Evansville changed her perspective and life. “I’m really big into other religions,” she told United Methodist News Service. “The one thing I love doing most is learning what they believe.”

That’s the kind of opportunity the Rev. Tamara K. Gieselman, university chaplain and director of religious life since 2009, hopes that undergraduate students at the United Methodist-related University of Evansville will have. She is a clergy member of the United Methodist Indiana Conference.

Many students are or will be members of local congregations, so providing interfaith experiences Gieselman noted, will make them more open to others. The increasing presence of international students at the University of Evansville also “creates a richness on our campus.”

She witnessed the effect of such interactions while appointed to a small church in southern Indiana for six years. When she invited a group of Muslims to come to the church after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, “it totally changed their (the congregation’s) attitude, just this one small dialogue,” she explained.

Support for the interfaith initiatives starts with University President Thomas Kazee and filters through faculty and staff, students and the wider Evansville community. “Given all the collaborative efforts over the last three years, it is clear to see that the university as a whole supports our interfaith initiative,” Gieselman said.

Interfaith activities over the past few years include:

  • A panel discussion on Islam in September 2010, in response to the controversy over a planned Islamic Center in lower Manhattan, which drew hundreds.
  • Religious forums on Islam, Judaism and Buddhism, with invited members of those faith groups, during the 2011-2012 academic year, followed the next year with forums on specific rituals and practices.
  • Interfaith worship services each fall semester since 2011, including the commissioning of the university’s newly formed interfaith council in 2012.

Informal monthly forums allowing faculty to reflect on their own faith traditions during the 2013-2014 academic year.

For more information about religious life at the University of Evansville, visit www.evansville.edu.