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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

The Journey of the Graduate Interfaith Series

Written by Deepti Thakoor

In this blog, I reflect on my journey from doing an independent study to implementing the independent study, a process I call “Peace in Practice.” The USD Graduate Interfaith Series is a series of six dialogues around topics of faith, aimed at bringing together graduate students of different faiths or no faith. We talk, discuss and have fun while making friends.

It started with a need and then an idea. The need was the desire to have a group meeting regularly to talk about matters of faith while stimulating my intellectual curiosity and deepening my connection with people. At that time, I did not know what form or shape it would take. I just knew that my faith needs were not being met. It was Fall 2021. I had just arrived in San Diego from Mauritius.

I started searching. My search led me to my participation in the All Faith Service 2022: Cultivating community in uncertain times.  Speaking at the All Faith Service was a very pleasant and enriching experience but it was not enough.

Act 1: The Seed

In Fall 2021, I took Professor Fryer’s classes: Facilitation and Dialogue skills and The Peacebuilder workshop. The idea was born somewhere in between those classes. Being trained into facilitating group dialogues made me want to facilitate my own. The Peacebuilder workshop provided the space needed for self-reflection and brainstorming ideas by writing all my thoughts on paper. It was an “ideas dump”.

The idea was to create an interfaith model for USD students, specifically to meet the needs of students of faith, other than Catholicism and Christianity. I spend considerable time at the University Ministry where I am most welcome and made very good friends. Yet, there was not a dynamic interfaith space for students.

This idea was my Seed. I started working on a plan to plant and grow the Seed (implementing this idea) in January 2022 over intercession through an independent study. I did not quite expect the challenges which I would face in trying to plant this Seed. Maybe the timing was not right. Maybe it was too soon? Maybe I was not ready? Maybe, who knows?

Act 2: ‘Springernate’ (wait for the right time)

I planned to incubate the Seed and launch the project over the Spring semester or part of it. It did not happen. I realized that the Seed was probably not ready to be planted.

My first hurdle was deciding where to incubate the project, ie where to plant the Seed. I had only considered the possibility of making a joint project with the University Ministry. Yet, when I pitched the idea to the VP for Mission Integration, Dr. Michael Lovette-Coyler, his suggestion was to incubate the project in the Kroc School as this project relates to grassroots-level peacebuilding efforts and my independent study was with the Kroc School.

I will admit that I had such a clear plan in my mind that I was not ready to consider alternatives. It was a time when I was filled with doubts and uncertainty as to whether this Seed will ever be planted. I just wanted the Seed to be planted and the plant to grow (almost immediately). I was in “doing” mode.

I had to pivot my thinking and adapt the project to the Kroc School. Sometimes, taking a step back helps. I decided to let the Seed hibernate (or should I say ‘Springernate’). I focused on completing my Spring semester and my Intervention Design class, with Dr. Philip Gamagheleyan, provided me with project designing skills and made me think about some logistical and evaluation aspects I had missed out on before.

Act 3: Plant

Summer was the right time, I thought, for some ‘gardening’. I had to find the soil(venue) in which to plant the Seed, the water and fertilizer source(finance), and the people to nurture the Plant (participants).

At this point, things started happening without much control on my part. Was it Divine Intervention? I would not exclude the possibility. I did make the effort but I did not feel I was riding against the current anymore. Frances Laviscount, Assistant Dean at the Kroc School, and Professor Fryer became the ‘gardener-mentors’ in this project. They were supportive emotionally and administratively. Above all, Dean Marquez gave her blessings to this project.

I had conversations with Dr. Lovette-Coyler about how I could implement this Seed. He saw value in this interfaith initiative and, very kindly, approved funding for the hospitality, providing the much-needed water and fertilizer. His action lifted a big pressure off my shoulders and I could focus on the content of the dialogues and smaller logistical details. I believe that hospitality is a core value in all religious traditions and it was important that I can honor that by providing a minimum of water and snacks to all attendees.

The Reflection Room became the soil where the Seed could grow. The rest was the nurturing done by the participants. Without them, there would be no Graduate Interfaith Series. The first event was a taster session for new Kroc Students on 29 Aug 2022 and it was the day, the Seed germinated. DSC_0315-1

Upon reflection, the Seed would not have germinated without the ‘Springernate’ period. It was waiting for the right time and needed the right kind of soil, water, fertilizer, and above all love.

Love which I have received from my friends who supported me by attending the event. Among them, Twila has been instrumental in taking her time to take me grocery shopping for refreshments and helping me prepare for the day. She was also the first one to hear about the Seed and strongly encouraged me to pursue my dreams. On the day she could not help, other friends like Cassie, Johnny, and Nurjamal took over. Sometimes God arranges things in ways I could not have predicted.

Act 4: Where are we now?

I am very happy and proud to say that the first leaves of the plant are here. The Graduate Interfaith Series has come out of the soil and is slowly growing. My next step is to make it strong and sustainable so that it can survive without me. For this, I need your collaboration and support.

If you are interested in being a part of the Graduate Interfaith Series, please sign up through  http://usdinterfaithseries.info/

Deepti Thakoor

About the Author

Deepti Thakoor

Deepti is an MS in Conflict Management and Resolution candidate at the Kroc School of Peace Studies.