• Yoga on the Mall 2018
    Yoga on the Mall 2018

When Rev. Megan Davison Danner ’06 returned to Southwestern in early 2015, she was excited to be back at her alma mater in her new position as Chaplain. She may not have realized, though, that the skills that her liberal-arts degree had honed in her would be put to use finding innovative ways to engage more of the student body in faith-based activities on campus. In fact, she found that misconceptions such as the culturally dominant narrative that “religion is oppressive and taboo on campuses” meant that she would have to reinvest “faith” with fresh meaning in order to invite a broader segment of the campus community’s participation.

Rev. Danner spent the early months of her chaplaincy educating herself on effective interreligious practices by reading texts like Acts of Faith by Eboo Patel, the Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Over the next two years, she continued to promote existing efforts on campus like the regular interfaith events hosted by the Global Engagement Hall. Looking to extend the mutual appreciation and interaction between faith traditions across campus, Rev. Danner took numerous students and several key staff members to state and regional conferences, including, most recently, the IFYC’s Interfaith Leadership Institute, held annually in Chicago.  As a result, she identified two priorities: developing strong student-peer leadership to help plan, implement and sustain interreligious programming, and providing additional capacity-building training to students, faculty and staff to expand competency in facilitating diverse religious and nonreligious perspectives.

In August of 2017, Southwestern’s Office of Spiritual and Religious Life received a grant from IFYC that funded a student internship position focused on launching these new student-directed programs, including workshops that bolster interfaith dialog and exploration on campus through a guided program developed by Hillel International. This “Ask Big Questions” (ABQ) program engages young adults in reflective conversations about purpose, identity, and responsibility through a specific set of structured questions. Rev. Danner said that one of the most impactful questions discussed in these ABQ workshops has been “How Do We Connect: Do you connect more easily with people who are like you or with people who are different from you?”

Rev. Danner received a second grant in December of 2017 from the Texas Methodist Foundation enabling the Office of Spiritual and Religious Life to further expand their educational and programmatic offerings. Yoga on the Mall and Common Ground Gatherings—small group conversations over coffee—are recent outgrowths of the effort by Rev. Danner and her intern to implement a new BRIDGE curriculum aimed at increasing participant competency in articulating and modeling how worldview engagement affects interreligious interactions. Rev. Danner has steadily been cultivating Interfaith Allies: faculty and staff who see value in interfaith cooperation on campus and will help with future goals such as developing interfaith pedagogies and curricula designed to continue growth of the campus environment around interfaith literacy. She looks forward to planning additional coalition-building opportunities such as the recent screening of Out Here, a documentary exploring the experiences of queer farmers across rural America and the unique perspectives that they contribute to food production in the U.S.

Rev. Danner’s motto is succinct as she encourages campus members toward “having meaningful conversations with unlikely conversation partners in order to gain new perspectives.” She recognizes that equipping students with a better understanding of pluralistic worldviews has a deep and lasting connection to their own faith.