With readings, music and reflections from multiple faith traditions, Chapman University formally installed the Rev. Gail Stearns, Ph.D., as dean of the Fish Interfaith Center, Wallace All Faiths Chapel, on Monday, March 26, in a ceremony shaped by interfaith celebration.
Speaking to an audience that included students and Orange County clergy, guest speaker Varun Soni, Ph.D., dean of religious life for the University of Southern California, said Dean Stearns, the center and its programs are a model of “interfaith aspirations.”
“Ultimately, because of the work of the dean and the presence of the chapel, Chapman University will produce a new generation of religious and spiritual leaders who are ambassadors of religious pluralism and advocates of interfaith engagement who will work tirelessly across faith lines,” Dr. Soni said.
In fact, Dr. Soni said millennial students, whom he jokingly described as the “the post Thriller generation,” referencing Michael Jackson’s iconic 1982 album, are already on the way.
“Research data suggest that our current undergraduate students are less interested in traditional religious services, doctrine and liturgy and more interested in religious experience, spiritual exploration and community service. They’re proactive in making their faith work for them. They enthusiastically embrace hybridized and non-denominational religious ideas, and they creatively reconcile their spiritual and scholastic lives, he said.
Dean Stearns echoed that sentiment and called on clergy to be part of the “essential” task of furthering interfaith conversations.
“I really believe that this work makes a difference in the world. It makes a difference because we come together as community members and we can do a lot of work in Orange County together, and because we are training students who will be the future leaders in this world,” she said.