Rabat - In a democratic country like the United States, a world beacon of freedom of thought and belief, institutions of higher education have always been on the avant-garde of serious knowledge acquisition, beneficial scientific research, and responsible national debate. But, experience has shown that technological advance, economic supremacy, and social well-being do not by themselves ensure much-needed social cohesion and inclusion.
Rabat – In a democratic country like the United States, a world beacon of freedom of thought and belief, institutions of higher education have always been on the avant-garde of serious knowledge acquisition, beneficial scientific research, and responsible national debate. But, experience has shown that technological advance, economic supremacy, and social well-being do not by themselves ensure much-needed social cohesion and inclusion.
Unfortunately today, many Western countries like France and Belgium are de facto fractured lands that are actively questioning their identities and future outcome because of lack of social justice, unity, and, subsequently, peace. They are currently reviewing their intercultural communication schemes and interreligious dialogue approach. For many social scientists and political analysts, France has created, out of secularism, a state religion entrenched in constitutional rigidity and forbidding any community-based dialogue in matters relating to faith.
On his arrival to the White House, President Barack Obama, aware of the importance of community-based dialogue, social exchange, and religious and cultural understanding between the different components of multicultural America for social cohesion and inclusion, initiated the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge with the mission to actively engage in interfaith cooperation and community service (“interfaith service” for short) as “an important way to build understanding between different communities and contribute to the common good.”
The American higher education community responded massively to this call and engaged positively in interfaith service for a solid and healthy society bound by mutual respect and common interest. Chief among these institutions is the prestigious Georgetown University that has set up the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, which acts as a forum for positive interfaith dialogue. The Berkley Center lately has given a boost to the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge by going international and global through the organization of the International Higher Education Interfaith Leadership Forum, to which representatives from 30 countries were invited to undertake interreligious dialogue and fruitful networking for future intercultural exchange.
Higher education institutions can definitely play a major role in sanctifying multiculturalism and highlighting the importance of diversity. A case in point are such university programs as Semester at Sea, which is a multi-country study abroad program on a ship open to all students of all majors, emphasizing global comparative study by embarking on global education and making the wide world a unique classroom for experiential education where culture, color, and creed are seen as a human shared wealth and not impediments.
Similarly, AMIDEAST Education Abroad Programs activity in the Arab world aims to foster mutual understanding and strives to “develop students’ intercultural and global competence and provide students with living and learning environments that are academically free and stimulating, intellectually rigorous and challenging, inter-culturally open and accepting, and physically safe. Join us on one of our semester, academic year, or summer programs for an exceptional discovery of the Arab World.” These programs help students come back home with a global perspective good for themselves and their country, at a time when people’s destinies are interconnected globally.
Back home, many American universities are embarking wholeheartedly in interfaith service to enshrine much-needed global understanding, positive intercultural communication, and constructive interfaith dialogue bearing in mind that American millennials, very much like world millennials, see the world at large as the stage of their future professional activity and even as an ideal habitat.
To encourage American universities in their interfaith community service programs and activities, the government has created an award: the White House Honor Roll for Interfaith Community Service given yearly to meriting universities during the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge conference.
As part of its participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, Georgetown University led workshop sessions from September 20 to 23, 2016 at Georgetown University and Gallaudet University centered around community service with an interfaith engagement component. Attendees had the opportunity to learn from experts, share experiences, and hear from administration officials. Georgetown University was named the Interfaith Community Service winner for the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll in recognition of its commitment to and achievement in community service.
Since its inception, the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge has had astounding success within the United States, proven through the number of American institutions of higher education that join the challenge every year and start their own programs of interfaith community service. The success of this program is not only national; it is going global in the sense that many countries have started their own interfaith challenges.
In a nutshell, the success of this campus challenge nationally and globally is due mainly to the fact that it strengthens multiple national identities resulting from multiculturalism and melting pot traditions, as well as reinforces social inclusion and cohesion, which are the sound foundations of a successful humanistic democracy.