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Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme



From 2011 to 2015, CIP annually organised a very succesful three-week summer school with the support of the Polonsky Foundation and the Omani Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments. The school usually occurred during July and August. It was based in Madingley Hall, University of Cambridge and included field trips to sites in Cambridge, London and Birmingham. 

Aimed at an international group of students from ‘Islamic, Christian and Jewish backgrounds’, the programme sought: 

  • to ‘lay the ground for mutual understanding and friendship between [the participants], while nevertheless acknowledging that the three “Abrahamic” religions, as they are known, are far from the same’; 
  • to facilitate ‘learning about forms of inter-faith engagement past and present, training in the practice of inter-faith scriptural reasoning, and lead students through a process of reflection on the inter-faith possibilities and challenges of their home contexts’;
  • to facilitate ‘learning to live well with disagreement, or to disagree intelligently’; 
  • to facilitate ‘immersion in inter-faith and cross-cultural encounter, to resource practical peace-making and conflict-transformation efforts’; 

The summer school endeavoured ‘to recruit future influencers who will in turn speak out and bring change to their communities’. It was intended for people in, or working towards, positions of leadership, particularly in a religious context, and was advertised as appropriate for students in the later stages of UG/early stages of PG studies and those in the early stages of active leadership or ministry. Experience in inter-faith engagement was not a requirement.

Approximately 30 participants were selected each year, the majority of whom were students, trainee religious leaders or early career professionals, including clergy and teachers. From 2011 to 2013, they were drawn from some twenty countries across the world. The average age of the participants was 31, whilst 67% of them expressed their gender identity as ‘male’. With one exception, all of them noted having strong religious commitments and attending daily or weekly corporate worship. The 2013 report noted that further attention is required to CIP’s ongoing support and encouragement of summer school alumni. Approximately ten participants from Oman attended the programme each year. CIP recruited five applicants to the programme who have Arabic skills and who were willing to take on the role of Arabic-speaking Facilitators (or interns). Their primary role was that of translation in small-group sessions and, when necessary, in lectures. 

The programme was organised to include scriptural reasoning sessions, lectures by academics and activists/leaders, discussions, ‘buddy groups’, free time and field trips. CIP introduced student presentations on ‘difficult texts in their respective traditions’ in 2012 and more informal and interactive ‘saloon conversations’ for reflections on conflict resolution, peace-making and transformational leadership in 2013. The scriptural reasoning sessions – in which participants meet to read and discuss passages of different sacred texts and the traditions shaped by them – have been described as ‘the bedrock’ and ‘the heart and foundation’ of the summer school programme. After some early meetings describing the history and practice of SR, the students spent 90 minutes each morning in breakout groups looking alternately at short passages from the Torah, New Testament and Qur’an. 

The costs of tuition, accommodation, on-site meals, activities and visits were covered by the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, thanks to support from the Omani Ministry of Religious Affairs and Endowments and the Polonsky Foundation. Students were asked to pay a deposit of £250 – refundable upon completion of the summer school. They sourced their own funds to cover their travel to and from Cambridge, and to cover a small number of meals and optional expenses during free time. Additional financial assistance was considered upon request.

Further information on previous CIP summer school programmes is available in Dr Richard McCallum’s CIP Summer School Report 2013

Click here to see a video of the CIP Summer School 2011.

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