Stephanie Varnon-Hughes, Ph.D., is the Director of the Claremont Core at Claremont Lincoln University, and an award winning teacher and interfaith leader. She is the host of the religion & culture podcast In Times Like These and author of Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us. Varnon-Hughes was a co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Inter-Religious Studies, a peer reviewed journal, and its sister publication, State of Formation, an online forum for emerging religious and ethical leaders. She holds a Ph.D. from Claremont Lincoln University, an M.A. and S.T.M. from Union Theological Seminary and her undergraduate degrees are in English and Education, from Webster University.
Vennly: In your opinion, what does the future of interfaith relations look like in the US? What are some of the biggest challenges?
Stephanie: It’s natural to feel a bit uncertain when we encounter different viewpoints. But we can’t stay in that uncertain place—we have to keep going, so that we can learn and be good neighbors and civic participants. This is the work of interfaith.
Religious and ethical leaders should be teaching their communities how to engage with difference. Any of us can read our sacred texts, or Google what we should believe. What we need help doing is engaging with people who don’t believe like us.
Vennly: As the director of the Claremont Core you are helping your students become the next generation of change-makers and leaders. What is your advice for individuals who are thinking about getting into interfaith work?
Stephanie: True dialogue means relationship, and dialogue done well leads to change. If we can’t listen to one another, we will never see other points of view. We’ll remain entrenched in our current patterns. Being open to other ideas is important. Being open to changing your view is revolutionary. Dialogue is an invitation to do this—and the more we participate, the more likely we are to find ways to solve conflict.
Vennly: In what ways have your personal experiences informed your professional endeavors?
Stephanie: I want to know people. I love people. I love talking to people. I wonder: Who do you love? Where do your children play? What’s your dream job? What are you worried about? Who looks after your health and long-term security? Who will come help you in an emergency? I think if you made a list of all of the people who connect to all of those answers, you will find that your beautiful life is already surrounded by diversity. My invitation to you is to go ahead and embrace it. Get to know those people. They need you. Your life will be enriched—or at least made a little more joyful, a little more bearable, a little more secure—when you meet others just where they are, and when you’re okay with the fact that they’re not exactly like you. I don’t call this “interfaith” work necessarily, but as it turns out, that’s been the framework for all of my professional work.
Vennly: As the host of a podcast on religion and culture, what are the benefits of audio as a vehicle to discuss and explore issues of faith and spirituality?
Stephanie: Stories are ancient. There is something powerful about needing to tell someone something. Our experiences make us unique, and tie us to others. Audio allows me to hear your voice, and to share my own. We find ourselves in relationship more immediately (and more immersively) than with text. These are fraught issues, we fail and share our fears–audio allows you to hear how I’m making sense of the world, beyond just the words I’m saying.
Podcast: In Times Like These
Instagram: @panoramicgreen, #InTimesLikeThese, #InterfaithGrit