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Director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Vassar attends White House conference on interfaith and community service at colleges.

POUGHKEEPSIE, NY-Rev. Samuel Speers, Vassar College's Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, joined more than 120 leading scholars, academics, university presidents, chaplains, students, and religious and community leaders on June 7 for the White House conference "Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses." Attendees ranged from presidents of evangelical and Catholic colleges, to Muslim and Buddhist chaplains, as well as representatives of Hindu and Jewish student organizations. 

The Obama Administration believes that interfaith service can advance concrete projects to serve those in need and foster social cohesion among diverse groups. Co-sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the White House Office for Social Innovation and Civic Participation, the gathering reflected, "President Obama's commitment to advancing interfaith and community service by building successful multi-stakeholder partnerships with universities, faith-based, secular, and community organizations. College campuses have long nurtured diverse community service efforts and have traditionally been viewed as a vanguard sector for important social movements."

The organizers and attendees intend to examine and compare their various efforts in a year's time.  "The Obama Administration wants to encourage the growing recognition that religious fluency is part of the learning experience for democratic education in the 21st Century," Speers observed.  "It is exciting to see this White House initiative forging unusual partnerships between educators and political, religious, and community leaders. Whether one is religious or not, the need to understand the role of religion in public life is receiving increasing attention-on college campuses like Vassar, and also in Washington."

About Samuel Speers
Ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1990, Rev. Samuel Speers began heading the Vassar College Office of Religious and Spiritual Life in 1999. "I see my professional work as helping people integrate what they care about with their learning, whether they are religious or not," he recently wrote. "College campuses are remarkable places for students to learn about living in communities that are both secular and religiously diverse."

Supported by a grant from the Teagle Foundation, Speers formed the Secularity and the Liberal Arts Project in 2006 with colleagues from Bucknell University, Macalester College, and Williams College. Their purpose is to foster a learning centered conversation about the secular borders of campus life. Their project emerged out of concerns that chaplains and faculty kept hearing from students as they sought to integrate aspects of their personal lives into their education.  A project working group, as well as a related conference held at Vassar in 2008, have explored how current understandings of secularity could both help and hinder efforts to integrate questions of value and meaning into a liberal arts curriculum.  The group is now expanding the circle of campuses considering what the project calls "the shifting terrain of the religious and the secular in liberal arts education"-with follow up support from the Teagle Foundation, the group is bringing a workshop it has recently developed to eight campuses this coming fall. 

Speers earned his Doctor of Ministry from the Princeton Theological Seminary, and his Master of Divinity from the University of Chicago, where he also served for eight years as Associate Dean of the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. For his Bachelor's degree in religion from Columbia University, he completed a thesis on challenges to just-war thinking in the nuclear age.

Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.

Posted by Office of Communications Tuesday, July 13, 2010