St. Olaf College | News

St. Olaf launches All-Community Read

Before the St. Olaf College class of 2024 arrives on campus this fall, they will all have one thing in common: the Common Read.

Common Read

The Common Read is a college tradition that was revived at St. Olaf in 2019. Incoming students receive a book that encourages deep thinking on social issues. They are then led through small-group discussions during New Student Orientation that challenge their critical thinking skills and lay important groundwork for the rigors of holding conversations in the college classroom.

In 2020, the Common Read for our incoming students will be Eboo Patel’s book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation. Patel is an immigrant from India, with a remarkable story of growing up Muslim in America and coming to believe in religious pluralism in the aftermath of 9/11. Acts of Faith is a hopeful and moving testament to the power and passion of young people — and of the world-changing potential of interfaith movement led by the young.

Patel’s Acts of Faith has been the single most influential book I’ve had the privilege to teach. Students tell me it’s one of the most transformative books they read in their college career.Lutheran Center Director and Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy Deanna Thompson

Lutheran Center Director Deanna Thompson, the Martin E. Marty Regents Chair in Religion and the Academy, says that in more than two decades of teaching undergraduates, “Patel’s Acts of Faith has been the single most influential book I’ve had the privilege to teach. Students tell me it’s one of the most transformative books they read in their college career.”

All-Community Read

St. Olaf will also introduce its first All-Community Read for this year. The All-Community Read is open to returning students, staff, faculty, alumni, parents, and friends of the college who read the book within their affinity groups and participate in guided conversations over Zoom. Faculty and staff can register to participate using this sign-up form. Alumni, parents, and friends of the college can register to join a virtual book discussion here.

Returning students can receive a free copy of Acts of Faith through the Lutheran Center for Faith and Values, sponsor of the All-Community Read. This project is also funded by a To Include is To Excel grant. Returning sophomores, juniors, and seniors must fill out the sign-up form to participate in the All-Community Read, or lead a discussion, and receive their free book by mail.

“Reading and discussing Patel’s book will, we hope, help advance St. Olaf’s vision of equity and inclusion. Particularly our commitment to ‘uplift and engage in mutual education about our diversity — such as race, religion and faith tradition, background and circumstance,'” Thompson says. “We also hope this All-Community Read might also foster a sense of connection over the summer for our students.”

Eboo Patel

Acts of FaithPatel is the founder of Interfaith Youth Core, a national nonprofit working towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions can bridge differences and find common values to build a shared life together. For over 15 years he has worked with governments, social sector organizations, and college and university campuses to help make interfaith cooperation a social norm.

Named by U.S. News & World Report as one of America’s Best Leaders of 2009, Patel served on President Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council and is the author of Acts of Faith, Sacred Ground, Interfaith Leadership: A Primer, and Out of Many Faiths: Religious Diversity and the American Promise. He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

Patel is scheduled to visit with our campus virtually on October 29-30, 2020. He will meet with campus leaders and students to hold broad discussions about race and interfaith issues.

Patel’s visit will now be virtual and will offer multiple opportunities for new students and all members of the community to interact with Patel about his work and how it relates to our lives together on the Hill and beyond.