Writer and interfaith leader Chris Stedman to engage in series of campus events
St. Olaf College is excited to welcome author, educator, and organizer Chris Stedman for a series of virtual events on March 9. Stedman has received acclaim for his writings advocating the inclusion of non-religious people in interfaith efforts and dialogue. His most recent book, titled IRL: Finding Realness, Meaning, And Belonging In Our Digital Lives, is this winter’s All-Community Read sponsored by the St. Olaf Lutheran Center for Faith, Values, and Community.
Drawing on his own experiences as a closeted teenager, Stedman provides a timely reflection on the communities we form online and how they can empower all identities, discussing topics like Black Lives Matter and online gaming along the way. In addition to writing, he recently served as a humanist chaplain at Harvard University and founded the Humanist Community at Yale University, where he was also a fellow. Stedman is also the founder and current director of the Humanist Center of Minnesota and a visiting lecturer at Augsburg University, where he was recently recognized with their “First Decade” alumni award. During the 2020-21 academic year, he is working with the Network of ELCA Colleges and Universities (NECU) as a visiting lecturer.
Stedman’s St. Olaf visit will include a chapel talk in the morning as well as an interview and Q&A session in the evening titled “What Can We Learn about Being Human from Life Online,” to which viewers can submit their questions live. Register here to participate. He will also be joining the Taylor Center for Equity and Inclusion’s Out for Lunch Series for LGBTQIA+ and allied students, faculty, and staff.
Students have been invited to join the All-Community Read and will be gathering in February to discuss the book, and alumni and parents will have the opportunity to read and discuss his book following his visit as part of a program organized by the Alumni and Parent Relations Office. Register here for an All-Community Book Group discussion on April 7.
Stedman’s visit will also continue the campus-wide discussion around interfaith dialogue begun by Eboo Patel and his book Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation, which was this fall’s Common Read and All-Community Read.
Last year Nicole King interviewed Stedman on NPR’s Morning Edition program. They spoke about Stedman’s own experiences with social media, both good and bad, and how they served as an inspiration for the book. Reflecting on the difficult moments, he explained, “I spent the last few years really wrestling with this sort of central question of what it means to be ‘real’ in a time when so much of our life now happens in spaces that we have absorbed the idea that they’re less real.”
I spent the last few years really wrestling with this sort of central question of what it means to be ‘real’ in a time when so much of our life now happens in spaces that we have absorbed the idea that they’re less real.Chris Stedman, as told to NPR’s Morning Edition
In a similar piece in the Huffington Post, he expressed how his conception of community had led him to be an interfaith organizer and the importance of LGBTQ inclusion in faith communities. In the piece, he also praises dialogue as a uniting factor between traditions, pointing out that Catholics are actually more likely than average to support same-sex relationships and that simply knowing someone who is LGBTQ increases this support.
A graduate of Augsburg, Stedman is an example of the diversity of faith and experience that is increasingly prevalent on ELCA-affiliated campuses. St. Olaf students come from a variety of Christian denominations, as well as Muslim, Jewish, Dharmic, and other faith traditions. St. Olaf is committed to fostering community and providing resources to students of all traditions, including the more than 25 percent of students who do not have a religious tradition.
While the college’s own Boe Memorial Chapel houses a Lutheran congregation led by College Pastor Matthew Marohl and Associate College Pastor Katherine Fick, the College Ministry staff has recently expanded to include Associate Chaplain for Jewish Life Shosh Dworsky and Associate Chaplain for Muslim Life Iman Jafri. There are also student-led faith communities for many traditions and opportunities for religious and interfaith leadership. This is in keeping with the Lutheran Center’s mission 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.”