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Initiative Streams

Each year, the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom sponsors educational initiatives that both engage the campus community and reach beyond the University to invite the larger public into its ongoing exploration of religious freedom. Many programs are arranged in partnership with local organizations or faith communities, among them are interfaith discussions, semester-long symposia, and guest speakers.

Speakers’ perspectives are intended to invite civil discussion and dialogue, but don’t necessarily reflect the policy or position of Virginia Wesleyan University. Please join us for these special opportunities to build bridges of understanding between people of different worldviews.

Here’s a look at the streams and their associated activities for the 2017 spring semester:


Ethics Bowl Demonstration

In 1997, the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges (VFIC) initiated the Ethics Bowl in an effort to involve students at the 15 VFIC colleges in lively debate and consideration of applied ethics—real world dilemmas that affect people’s lives in increasingly complex ways. Virginia Wesleyan College will host the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges' 18th Annual Wells Fargo Ethics Bowl on February 12-13, 2017. VWC students will take a stand against highly qualified teams from independent colleges and universities across Virginia, debating a variety of case studies highlighting this year’s topic, "Ethics and U.S. Presidential Politics."

It is a tradition of the CSRF to host a debate demonstration with the Virginia Wesleyan Ethics Bowl teams as they prepare to compete in the VFIC competition.

Ethics & U.S. Presidential Politics
Wednesday, February 8, 2017, 7:00-8:30 PM
Monumental Chapel
The VWC Ethics Bowl teams debate a case study on this year’s topic of “Ethics & U.S. Presidential Politics,” with members of the audience having the opportunity to interact, critique, and discuss.

Guest Speakers

This spring, with support from The Lighthouse: Center for Exploration and Learning at Virginia Wesleyan College, the CSRF is hosting two guest speakers who have each authored recently published books.

"The Messiah Will Come Again": Black Elk and the Life of an American Visionary
Thursday, March 30, 2017, 11:00 AM-Noon
Clarke Hall, The Lighthouse Commons

Coastal Virginia’s own Joe Jackson discusses his new book, Black Elk: The Life of an American Visionary (2016). Black Elk, the Native American holy man who inspired millions around the world, had a dramatic life that converged with some of the most momentous events in the history of the American West. Jackson’s talk focuses on Black Elk’s changing religious identity as a healer and holy man, motivated by a powerful prophetic vision that he struggled to understand. Joe Jackson is the Mina Hohenberg Darden Endowed Professor of Creative Writing in the M.F.A. creative writing program at Old Dominion University.

Race: Why Won’t It Go Away?
Thursday, April 6, 2017, 11:00 AM-Noon
Clarke Hall, The Lighthouse Commons

Dr. Ted Vial, Professor of Theology and Modern Western Religious Thought at Iliff School of Theology, authored the recent monograph, Modern Religion, Modern Race (2016).In his talk, “Race: Why Won’t It Go Away?” Vial explores why, even though biologists tell us that race does not exist, we don’t seem to be able to escape thinking in racial terms. Looking at the assumptions we have used to make sense of the world since the early 1800’s, Vial shows that thinking racially is not a departure from modernity’s highest ideals, but part of the foundation of modernity itself.

Justine L. Nusbaume Endowed Lectureship

Robert C. Nusbaum and his brother V.H. Nusbaum established the Justine L. Nusbaum Endowed Lectureship in honor of their mother, who was well-known for her life-long volunteer service and dedication to humanitarian causes.  Robert “Bob” Nusbaum is the driving force behind the founding of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom in 1996, the establishment of the Justine L. Nusbaum Lectureship, and the Religious Freedom Essay Contest. In spring 2016, Mr. Nusbaum was recognized as the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom Founding Fellow.

The Challenges of Religious Freedom around the Globe: 2017
Monday, March 13, 7:30-8:30 PM
Boyd Dining Center

David N. Saperstein, the Immediate Past United States Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom, speaks on the work to promote religious freedom around the world and to fight persecution, discrimination, and genocide by groups like ISIS. During the Obama administration, Saperstein was a principal advisor to the president and secretary of state and served as the United States chief diplomat on issues of religious freedom worldwide. Rabbi Saperstein was nominated by then President Barack Obama and became the first non-Christian to head the Office of International Religious Freedom (2014 – January 2017).

Life Matters Series

In “Life Matters,” members of the Virginia Wesleyan community offer autobiographical reflections on their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual experiences. Launched in fall 2015 in partnership with the Chaplain’s Office and the Center for Innovative Teaching and Engaged Learning (INTEL), the series has quickly become a much anticipated event among VWC faculty, staff, and students. These deeply personal reflections by members of the campus community are meaningful opportunities for understanding and connection. They also offer space for each of us to take a moment to think about what has shaped us and given our own life meaning.

Life Matters: Dr. Kathy Stolley
Professor of Sociology, Virginia Wesleyan College
Thursday, March 16, 2017, Noon-12:50 PM
Boyd Dining Center, Shafer Room

Life Matters: Dr. Timothy O’Rourke
Provost & Vice President for Academic Affairs, Virginia Wesleyan College
Thursday, April 13, 2017, Noon-12:50 PM
Boyd Dining Center, Shafer Room

Nexus Interfaith Dialogue Series

A hallmark program of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, the Nexus Interfaith Dialogue series was established in 1998 and is co-sponsored by the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities. A nexus is a point of connection, and that’s just what this program is about: connecting people of all faiths (or no faith) through open and respectful dialogue.

In anticipation of the opening of Virginia Wesleyan’s new Greer Environmental Sciences Center in fall 2017, this Nexus Interfaith Dialogue series focuses on faith and the environment. The CSRF is working with the Lynnhaven River NOW Pearl Faith Community both to draw attention to faith perspectives on our relationship with the environment and to consider our responsibility as stewards of the earth.

Theological Perspectives on Faith & the Environment
Monday, February 20, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

Moderated by Cathy Lewis, Host of HearSay with Cathy Lewis, WHRV 89.5 FM, a panel of diverse clergy discusses theological perspectives on faith and the environment.

Lynnhaven River Now Pearl Faith Community
Monday, April 24, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

Moderated by Karen Forget, Executive Director, and Pam Northam, Pearl Home and Pearl Faith Coordinator, Lynnhaven River NOW, participants in the Pearl Faith Community discuss their actions and initiatives as responsible stewards of the earth.

Race: Let’s Talk About It Initiative

In fall 2015, the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, WHRO Public Media, and the Fort Monroe Authority launched the “Race: Let’s Talk About It” initiative to explore race and its impact on society from historical, academic and sociological perspectives. Topical discussions begin on the Another View radio program and continue at town hall events that offer safe space to engage the community in open and honest conversation. Moderated by Another View host, Barbara Hamm Lee, a panel helps to guide the town hall conversations, but the discussions belong to the audience.

Another Viewis an award winning, hour-long, call-in radio talk show that aires Fridays at noon on 89.5 WHRV-FM. Hosted by Barbara Hamm Lee, Another View discusses today’s topics from an African American perspective.

 “The Talk” Town Hall Discussion
Tuesday, February 21, 2017, 6:30-8:00 PM
Fort Monroe, Hampton VA
Register at

"The Talk" is the often difficult but increasingly necessary discussion black and Latino families must have with their children about avoiding confrontations with police officers. WHRO's Barbara Hamm Lee and guests examine the issues around this crucial conversation at the Race: Let's Talk About It Town Hall. As part of the discussion, clips from the documentary, titled The Talk - Race in America, which airs on WHRO Monday, February 20, 2017 at 9:00 PM, will be shown. The conversation starts on Another View on Friday, February 17, 2017.

Symposium: Mediating Religious Conflict

This spring semester, a new religious studies course, “Mediating Religious Conflict,” highlights the kinds of conflicts, disagreements, and differences that exist between and among religions in the United States. Taught by CSRF Director Dr. Craig Wansink, the class blends course work, mediation training, and interreligious experiences, and aims to prepare students for meaningful engagement with the religious diversity around us.  When issues like homosexuality, abortion, or Palestinian rights arise, dividing lines too frequently are drawn almost immediately. How can we begin to communicate with individuals whose perspectives not only may differ from our own, but may also deeply offend us?

Members of the community are invited to join discussions with a series of guest speakers as they discuss issues of religion, reflect on their respective faith perspectives, and share personal stories about lived experiences.

What is Tantric Sex?
Thursday, February 23, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium
Support provided by The Lighthouse: Center for Exploration and Learning at Virginia Wesleyan College

"Tantra" in the West usually means one thing - long, ritualized, and exotic sex. The reality is much more complex than lovemaking. Sam Grimes, a scholar of Sanskrit and classical Indian religion, explores how tantric practices have everything to do with eliminating all desire through clearly defined stages of sexual “bliss,” leading to ultimate liberation from suffering. Grimes has studied South Asian religions at the University of Hawaii, classical India religions and Sanskrit at Oxford University, and most recently ritual and ritual theory with the Vajrācāryas, the tantric Buddhist priests of Kathmandu.

Talking about Abortion and Faith: Anti-Abortion Reasoning and Effective Communication
Thursday, March 2, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

How to begin to have constructive dialogue or conversation about an issue as contentious as abortion? Jacqueline Hawkins, Director of Minority Outreach at the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform,
discusses the reasoning behind the anti-abortion stance and how—in her work—she seeks to communicate facts and issues from a philosophical and scientific standpoint. Hawkins highlights communication techniques that her organization has found effective both in heated, hostile environments as well as in more familiar situations with family and friends.

Defending Life: When Might Faith Justify Violence or the Use of Force?
Thursday, March 9, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

An interview and conversation with Rev. Donald Spitz, the spokesperson for the anti-abortion organization Army of God, and spiritual advisor to Paul Hill, Eric Rudolph, Michael Bray, Shelley Shannon, and Scott Roeder, each of whom has used force against abortion providers and clinics. This conversation between CSRF Director Dr. Craig Wansink and Rev. Spitz focuses on Spitz’s life, calling, and perspectives. Since not all Christians are pacifists, a broader conversation will focus on the question: In what circumstances or situation might faith justify violence or the use of force?

The Challenges of Mediating and Discussing LGBTQ+ Experiences in the Church
Thursday, March 16, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

The risk of misunderstanding frequently prevents individuals from participating in important conversations – particularly with those with whom they disagree – on topics of sexual identity and LGBTQ+ experiences. This discussion with Dr. Mark A. Yarhouse, Rosemarie S. Hughes Endowed Chair and Professor of Psychology at Regent University, discusses how to engage and interact around LGBTQ+ experiences in the church and broader culture today.

Hard Things to Discuss: Jews, Christians, and Dialogue that Matters Today
Thursday, April 6, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

Dr. Michael Panitz and Dr. Craig Wansink lead participants through case studies that highlight ways in which well-intentioned people of different faiths may miscommunicate or speak past each other. One case study will focus on the challenges of religion in the public square (e.g. eruvs and religious rules in public swimming pools). Other case studies focus on Christians' appropriation of Jewish scripture and the challenges in discussing issues related to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Dr. Panitz serves as Rabbi at Temple Israel in Norfolk and is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Religion at Virginia Wesleyan. Dr. Wansink directs the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom and is an ordained Presbyterian minister.

Muslim Women and Stories of Life in America
Thursday, April 20, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium

What unusual circumstances face Muslim women in America? What do they most wish others might know about them? Where do they find challenges, hope, meaning, and joy through their faith? Dr. Tahani Amer, Senior Technologist at NASA Headquarters, and congregant at the Mosque and Islamic Center of Hampton Roads, moderates a panel of diverse Muslim women who discuss and reflect on these questions and more.

Origins of Modern Yoga
Thursday, April 27, 2017, 7:00-8:15 PM
Blocker Hall Auditorium
Support provided by The Lighthouse: Center for Exploration and Learning at Virginia Wesleyan College

The modern yoga movement is chock full of misinformation, charlatanism, and orientalist exploitation. Sam Grimes (scholar of Sanskrit and classical Indian religion, see above) discusses why the origins the movement, and the traditions from which they drew their inspiration, are actually far more fascinating than the fiction most frequently sold in the West concerning the Sanskrit word “yoga.”

Soup On Friday Celebrations: U.S. Presidency & Religious Freedom

Soup on Friday Celebrations are opportunities for VWC faculty, staff, students and members of the larger community to come together for food and fellowship. Themed celebrations provide food for thought and encourage lively conversation in a fun atmosphere.

U.S. Presidency and Religious Freedom
Friday, April 28, 2017, 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Clarke Hall, CSRF Office Suite

Stop by the CSRF anytime between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. to enjoy a cup of soup and view the “U.S. Presidency and Religious Freedom” display produced by Virginia Wesleyan students enrolled in Professor Sharon Swift’s spring 2017 digital art classes.