This profile was last updated in 2009
In 2006, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was the recipient of a $1.6 million grant from the United States Department of Homeland Security’s Department of Academic Affairs. The grant was to be divided among five schools – Tufts University, Wellesley College, Brandeis University, the University of Maryland, and MIT – over three years and resulted in the creation of various programs designed to facilitate interfaith dialogue among students. MIT’s initiative, the Addir Fellows Interfaith Dialogue Program, is named for an ancient Sumerian word, addir, which translates as “bridge” and reflects the program’s purpose of bringing together people of different faiths through dialogue and other means. Interested students fill out an application – which includes an essay component on an individual whose “ability to build bridges” the student admires – and are interviewed by the Addir Fellows Coordinator. 30 applicants are chosen as Fellows each year; historically, the numbers of graduate and undergraduate Fellows have been approximately even. The Department of Homeland Security grant, which ended in spring 2009, had specifically called for a focus on the “Abrahamic faiths” – Christianity, Judaism, and Islam – but Addir, which has secured other sources of funding for 2009-2010, is altering its focus to include as many faiths as possible, actively recruiting students from outside the Abrahamic traditions. Addir enjoys a significant presence on campus, especially considering how recently it was created; the current coordinator, Ora Gladstone, has remarked that many people on MIT’s campus have heard of the program and have some idea of what it does. Additionally, Addir has been more and more involved with university administration – it has been invited to work with a presidential task force and the Graduate Student Office on issues of campus diversity, specifically in the latter case on making graduate student culture more inclusive of students from various cultural, religious, and national backgrounds. Relative to its partner schools – those sharing the Department of Homeland Security grant – Addir is viewed as particularly effective and has been adopted in part as a model for Brandeis’ interfaith initiative, the BUILD Program. For the future, there have been conversations about launching an interfaith magazine or creating a new university course that would offer academic credit to students who become Fellows.
Addir consists of bimonthly lectures and dinners that address particular interfaith themes – examples include the October 2006 lecture by Professor Mitchell Silver, “From the Outside-In: A Philosopher of Secularism Reflects on Religious Belief, Disbelief and the Pluralism of Worldviews,” and the panel discussion titled “A New Era? What issues confront Christianity, Islam and Judaism at this historic time?” These public events complement the core of the program: the weekly dialogue meetings. These meetings build relationships among the Fellows and give them an in-depth understanding of the Abrahamic faiths and the relations among them (in future years, the dialogues will include other faiths as well). The dialogues are primarily run by the Fellows, with some guidance from the Coordinator and the three advising Chaplains. The meetings take place in various classrooms and other spaces around campus according to the needs of the Fellows; most of the public lectures/dinners – as well as meetings with the Coordinator – are held in the Religious Activities Center (W11). Additional activities include Fellows’ visits to various places of worship during MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP), held in January. Fellows also help to plan one or two campus-wide interfaith events during the year, and participate in fall and spring mini-retreats that are designed to garner feedback on how the program is working or can be improved.