Internship Blog Series #6: Viveka Hall-Holt ’22

The last post in our summer 2021 internship blog series features an interview with Viveka Hall-Holt ‘22. Viveka interned at Interfaith Philadelphia, an organization that works to equip individuals and communities for interfaith engagement, build collaborative relationships, and stand in solidarity with their diverse neighbors. St. Olaf staff member Carolyn Pierson ‘06 sat down with Viveka to learn more about her internship experience this summer.
Viveka (right) at the Interfaith Philadelphia office
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you learned about Interfaith Philadelphia. What drew you to this internship initially? 

I’m a senior and I study Psychology and Religion. I’m also an Interfaith Fellow at the Lutheran Center so I first learned about Interfaith Philadelphia when we were investigating the possibility of doing an Alternative Break Trips through their organization. I thought they were a cool organization and I really liked their mission. Their main idea is: dare to understand. There are so many avenues you can take with that idea in interfaith work and they indeed do–they have many different programs. It incorporates both the ideas of working for the common good and social justice–both popular commitments in the interfaith movement–but they also do not shy away from people having strong spiritual commitments, and really focus on training people to be able to interact with each other and understand each other in many different areas of life in relation to religion, faith traditions, and other important parts of our personality and identity.

What were some of your responsibilities as an intern? In what ways did you grow over the course of your internship?

I initially attended staff meetings and completed some of their staff training offerings because I wanted to learn more. I met with my supervisor and with the student intern learning group. Every intern has at least one project connected to an existing program. From the beginning I was interested in their Gateway to Religious Communities program, where Interfaith Philadelphia facilitates visits to different faith communities so people can learn more about each other in that intimate space (which is usually a worship space). It often involves some kind of experience of what a ritual or service is like, allowing for a kind of immersive experience. Then there’s a Q&A with members of the community where participants can ask questions, be curious, and learn in that way. I thought that was a great program that tied in with my work with the Lutheran Center where I talked to people about their religious and spiritual practices.

Working on this project involved contacting people Interfaith Philadelphia knew and asking if they would be willing to host one of these events. After that we did some advertising and then finally it was my job to facilitate the events in August. Two communities stepped up and were willing to host, one was a Sikh gurdwara and the other a Bahá’í community in the area. It was really exciting for that to all come together.

Over the course of the internship, I think I grew in confidence. I grew in knowledge of what it’s like to work in a nonprofit setting and with a really great organization. I grew in confidence in being a professional and communicating with people I don’t know from different faiths. I learned to be brave and that you can reach out. Of course being respectful of where people are and not expecting anything but saying “this would be a gift and I’d love to talk with you.” Interfaith Philadelphia has connections with lots of people and I think that’s really valuable. So I learned what it’s like to be in an organization with many connections and relationships and how important it is to not only work with people only once but to really work with them and create relationships.

Is there anything about your internship that surprised you?

From reading about Interfaith Philadelphia I was really excited to work with them, but I was surprised by just how wonderful the community is and how wonderfully they integrate having a personal life with being professionals. They really care about each other and want to collaborate on projects.In all the staff meetings there was always a space for people to talk about what they’re doing at the moment and ask for help. The meetings included fun activities and group building as well as presentations and challenges the organization is facing. So having these staff meetings is a strength of the organization that I was surprised by and really enjoyed.

The Lutheran Center mission aims to bring together people of different faiths and worldviews to enrich spiritual inquiry, foster love of neighbor, and deepen a sense of vocation in all. How do you see your internship experience relating to the Center’s mission?

Bringing together people of different faith traditions is an obvious example of how the internship related to the Center’s mission, especially with the Gateway Program that I helped run. There were people from many traditions who signed up and came and they were all brought together to meet even more people from the Sikh and the Bahá’í communities. That’s a clear example of bringing people from many faiths and worldviews together.

You were also working on a Steen Fellowship project this summer. Can you tell me a bit about the Fellowship and how it related to your work with Interfaith Philadelphia?

The Steen Fellowship project is my own project through St. Olaf but I talked to Interfaith Philadelphia from the beginning and they helped me with this project. For the Fellowship project, I decided to study attitudes people have towards other religions and spiritualities because that is something I was really curious about and wanted more information on while doing interfaith work. I was hoping that having more research from a psychological lens would be helpful for interfaith work. I think people who do this work have a lot of knowledge of attitudes already from a first-person perspective, but I wondered what coming at it from a totally different lens would shed light on. I crafted a questionnaire with items that I thought of, coming from a religious studies perspective–ideas like people’s beliefs regarding other traditions. I wanted to know not only about what beliefs we think we share but what kinds of beliefs and whether people think they share things like practices or religious experiences, so I asked a lot of questions about what people share and what religious background people have, how important different aspects of religiosity are to them, etc. There were different factors that I was trying to look at to see what may be related to different attitudes. There are applications that I’m hoping will be significant for interfaith work as well as furthering the study of psychology of religion. Most of the summer was getting the questionnaire ready and doing recruitment. This fall, I did some analyses which came up with five factors that fell together and are related to interreligious attitudes. I am thinking of naming them religious self-concept, respect toward others, interreligious kinship, positive interreligious contact, and religious exceptionalism. However, these are still in their preliminary stages of analysis and require more thought.

Watch Viveka’s full interview: