2021 Interfaith Student Summit


2021 Interfaith Student Summit

2021 Interfaith Student Summit

Date: Friday, April 9, 2021.
Time: 9:30 am – 12 noon

The Drew University Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict and the Interfaith Youth Core were pleased to host the 2021 Interfaith Student Summit (Virtual), engaging students from institutions of Higher Education across New Jersey.

Undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff, faculty, and clergy from a dozen NJ college campuses participated.

2021 Interfaith Student Summit Keynote Speaker

Carr Harkrader

Director of the Interfaith Leadership Institute, IFYC

Carr Harkrader oversees online learning and curriculum development for IFYC. In his role, Carr develops digital learning tools for IFYC’s networks, including written resources, webinars, and online communities and coordinates curriculum and content for the Interfaith Leadership Institute. Carr earned a BA in political science and history from UNC-Chapel Hill and a M.Ed from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. As an educator, Carr’s interest in interfaith cooperation comes directly from his belief that learning together and acting as a community can bring people together across lines of difference.

Meet our Interfaith Student Summit Panel Facilitators

Rev. Dr. Sammy Arroyo

Rev. Dr. Sammy Arroyo is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Hightstown, NJ.  Pastor Sammy is the Public Education and Outreach Coordinator for Salvation and Social Justice, a New Jersey non-profit organization that seeks to liberate Public Policy, theologically. Over the past few years he has advocated for a Public School system that is equitable and fair to Black and Latinx students in NJ. He has also championed changes in unfair immigration policies in New Jersey.  Pastor Sammy received his PhD in February 2020, his dissertation focused on Church, Evangelism and Slavery in Latin America during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Rev. Dr. Tanya Linn Bennett

Drew University Chaplain

Associate Dean for Vocation and Formation
Associate Professor in the Practice of Public Theology and Vocation

Tanya Linn Bennett is an associate professor in the practice of public
theology and vocation, and associate dean for vocation and formation.
An ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, she is active in
worship design and leadership nationally. Tanya’s research interests
include emerging adults and religion, urban community organizing and
advocacy, liturgy for non-traditional worshipping communities, and
feminist approaches to public theology.

Dr. M. Ali Chaudry

Dr. Chaudry grew up in Pakistan, graduated from the London School of Economics with honors in Economics and Econometrics in 1967 and received a Ph.D. in economics from Tufts University in 1972. He worked for AT&T for thirty years in various departments including Chief Economist, strategic planning and finance where he served as division CFO for the PR Division.

Dr. Chaudry is co-founder of the NJ Interfaith Coalition.  He serves on the NJ Attorney General’s Muslim Outreach Committee and as a member of the Interfaith Advisory Council of the NJ Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.  He is President of the Branchburg Rotary Foundation. Dr. Chaudry is a frequent speaker at interfaith events and initiated the Pledge to Stand Up for the Other, calling on everyone to challenge bigotry in any form.

Rev. Julian Cook

Ph.D. student, Religion and Social Ethics, Drew University

A native of Chicago’s South Side, Julian Armand Cook is an emerging Black religious scholar and Ph.D. student in Christian Social Ethics at Drew University. He is the Pastor of the historic Macedonia Baptist Church of Buffalo, New York—an oasis of hope and community in western New York for over 100 years.
Cook is a graduate of Houghton College (2013) and Boston University (BU) School of Theology (2016). Cook was recently appointed Dean of Houghton College Buffalo: East Side (HCB: East Side) in Buffalo, New York. HCB: East Side is a two-year associates degree program that eliminates socio-economic barriers to education for underserved students on Buffalo’s East Side, and is rooted in Black communities, moral and intellectual traditions.
Cook is grateful for a broad network of supportive kindred, especially his life-partner Sirgourney and seven month old, Langston.

Samantha Facciolo

Samantha Facciolo is the Assistant Director at the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, a nonprofit organization that builds bridges between Muslim and Jewish women and teen girls with the goals of increasing interfaith understanding and cooperation, developing female leaders, and promoting just, equitable, and inclusive communities. In her role as Assistant Director, Samantha is responsible for membership, volunteer management, leadership development, teen programming, communications, social media, and special events. Prior to joining the Sisterhood, she was a full-time educator and has taught at New York University, Emerson College, and in NYC and Boston public schools. Her writing has been featured in Sojourners, Marie Claire, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.

Rabbi Jonah Geffen

Rabbi Jonah Geffen is the Senior Jewish Educator and Campus Rabbi at Hunter Hillel. Jonah has taught, led, and organized across the Jewish communal landscape at such places as J Street, The New Shul, Yeshivat Hadar, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Kivunim, and The Pardes Center for Judaism and Conflict Resolution. Jonah attended Young Judaea Year Course, received his BA in History and Jewish Studies from Indiana University, an MS in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from George Mason University, and an MA in Jewish Studies and Rabbinic Ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary. He was a Kollel Fellow at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, a summer fellow at Yeshivat Hadar, and a CLAL Rabbis Without Borders Fellow. His writing has been featured in the Washington Post, Haaretz, the Jerusalem Post, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and the Huffington Post, among others.

Jonah lives in Harlem with his beloved, Julia Mannes, and their two roller derby playing daughters. As a family they enjoy frequenting the parks and playgrounds of the world, watching cooking shows, and singing the Indiana University fight song.


Dr. Laurel Kearns

Drew University
Professor of Ecology, Religion and Society

Dr. Laurel Kearns co-founded the Green Seminary Initiative, and is Professor of Ecology, Society and Religion at Drew Theological School in New Jersey, where she has taught religion, ecology and social justice for 24 years. Her research is focused on religious involvement in ecological issues and movements, with a particular interest in environmental justice, climate change, and food. In addition to EcoSpirit: Religions and Philosophies for the Earth, she has contributed chapters to volumes such as Quakers, Creation Care, and Sustainability, The Oxford Handbook on Climate Change and Society, and the Bloomsbury Handbook on Religion and Nature. Her decades long involvement in religious environmentalism has roots in the island where she was born, Sanibel, Florida.

Imam Saffet Catovic

Muslim Chaplain, Drew University

Imam Saffet Catovic has been a long-time US Muslim Community Organizer/Activist and Environmental Leader. He is a core member of the Parliament of the World’s Religions Climate Action Task Force and serves on their Board of Trustees, and has recently been elected as Treasurer. He is also a member of the Statewide Clergy Council of Faith in New Jersey, a Faith in Action affiliate, and also serves on their Board of Directors. Saffet is a GreenFaith Muslim Fellow and serves as their Senior Muslim advisor.

Imam Saffet is the Co-founder and Chair of the Green Muslims of New Jersey (GMNJ); a founding board member of the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) Green Initiatives; a consultant to the Drafting Committee of the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change; a founding member of the Global Muslim Climate Network (GMCN); a Co-drafter of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) “Fatwa” Religious ruling on fossil fuel divestment and member of the scholars Drafting team of “Al-Mizan – Covenant for the Earth” organized under the auspices of the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) – Faiths for Earth and the Islamic World Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ICESCO) . Saffet has been recently appointed to the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) Executive Board. Imam Saffet serves as the Muslim Chaplain at Drew University where he also received his MA in Religion and Society, specializing in Religion and the Environment.

Rev. Dr. Althea Spencer-Miller

Drew University

Assistant Professor of New Testament

Althea Spencer Miller is Assistant Professor of New Testament at Drew University Theological School. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University; a Masters of Theology from Candler School of Theology; a Bachelor of Theology with Second Class Honors from the University of the West Indies; and a Diploma in Ministerial Studies from the United Theological College of the West Indies. Her major research interests are in Orality Studies and Africana Studies for Biblical hermeneutics. She co-edited Feminist New Testament Studies: Global and Future Perspectives with Kathleen O’Brien Wicker and Musa Dube (2005) and has contributed essays as chapters in a number of publications since then. She is a featured commentator on the Episcopalian Lectionary based podcast, titled “Preaching Podcasts for Those Who Proclaim Publicly.” She serves as a committee member for the “Islands, Islanders and the Scriptures” unit of the Society of Biblical Literature and is the liaison for the African Association for the Study of Religion an affiliate organization of the American Academy of Religion. She is an elder in the United Methodist Church, New York Annual Conference, Minister in Residence at the Church of the Village United Methodist Church in Manhattan, NY., and an associate member of First Congregational Church, Montclair NJ. Dr. Spencer Miller also serves on the steering committees of Methodists in New Directions, United Methodists Forward. Each of these is an advocacy group for LGBTQI+ full inclusion in the United Methodist Church. She also collaborates with the Liberation Methodist Connexion, an emergent Christian denomination in the U.S. She is eager to do work that connects the academy and the church with innovative approaches to biblical interpretation. Dr. Spencer Miller’s commitment to justice and love for social transformation integrates her life. She understands Christian commitment as grounded within a community of faith that is always restless for expressions of God’s “kin-dom,” a resolute search for whole life shalom.

Sunita Viswanath

Sunita Viswanath has worked for over 25 years in women’s rights and human rights organizations.  In 2001, Sunita co-founded the international women’s human rights organization, Women for Afghan Women (WAW), and currently serves as Board Chair of WAW. Sunita has edited “Women for Afghan Women: Shattering Myths and Claiming the Future” (Palgrave McMillan, 2003), a book of essays. For her work with WAW, Sunita was awarded the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Global Women’s Rights Award in 2011.

Sunita co-founded Sadhana in 2011 in order to mobilize Hindu Americans to connect their faith to social justice and human rights. She was honored by President Obama at the White House in 2015 as a “Champion of Change” for her work with Sadhana. In June 2019, Sunita co-founded Hindus for Human Rights (HfHR), a U.S.-wide human rights advocacy group that is committed to the ideals of multi-religious pluralism both in the United States and India. Sunita is an advisory board member of Population Media Center, which uses entertainment-education and mass media to promote social and cultural change. Sunita serves as Hindu Religious Life Advisor at Columbia University.

About the 2021 Interfaith Student Summit

Our goal with this gathering was to bring students together online to discuss priorities for change they would like to see on their New Jersey campuses and in their communities. Attendees learned from experienced leaders about ways to put these priorities into action while interacting with peers from institutions around our state. The summit made use of methods and materials developed by our partner, the Interfaith Youth Core.

To be clear, the agenda was not limited to strictly religious issues, but rather, social issues that we deem important as expression of our religious values. This program was highly interactive with brief panelist presentations serving as catalyst for breakout discussion.

Interfaith Student Summit contact: Prof. Jonathan Golden  jgolden@drew.edu

Program Partners 

Drew University Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict and Drew Religious Life

Interfaith Youth Core

Council Coalition of Religious Leaders of the State of New Jersey;  Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom