Marion Larson on Bubbles, Bridges, and Multifaith Engagement
Date: February 26th, 2017

Are Christian students and faculty on private religious colleges contained in a bubble?  If so, what can they do to engage an increasingly pluralistic religious society?  Prof. Marion Larson, professor and chair of the English Department at Bethel University, answers these questions and presents a number of different strategies for engaging people of different faiths based upon her new book From Bubble to Bridge, co-authored with her Bethel colleague, Prof. Sara Shady.  We begin the conversation by exploring where the idea for this book came from.  Dr. Larson talks about her interest in viewing teaching through the lens of “hospitality,” a concept that becomes central to also engaging people of different faith traditions.  We then discuss the concept of a “bubble,” and why many Christian students attending private religious colleges could often be seen as existing within such an enclosed environment.  Marion does not consider a bubble to be entirely bad, and we discuss how religious leaders and parents are often afraid of seeing their children lose their religious traditions in a multicultural world.  Bubbles can be protective, but they also can be limiting, and Prof. Larson seeks methods of trying to negotiate these competing tendencies.  Our discussion also brings up the issue of whether religious faith should be kept out of the public square as a means of ameliorating conflict, but Prof. Larson disagrees with this type of assessment, noting that one’s faith is to be lived publicly.  We discuss various notions of engaging people of different faiths, including tolerance, inclusion, dwelling, and “sending.”  Much of this is premised on Profs. Larson and Shady’s concept of “hospitality,” which in turn is greatly informed by Miroslav Wolf’s notion of “embracing arms.”  Prof. Larson discusses the importance of three virtues in interfaith engagement: receptive humility; reflective commitment; and imaginative empathy.  Throughout the conversation, Marion discusses case studies of actual individuals who have lived out an interfaith engagement as a means of illustrating a number of the theoretical points she is making.  She also talks about Sara and her work with Interfaith Youth Corps, a Chicago-based organization founded by Eboo Patel.  We also explore the tension between inclusivity and the desire to hang out with our own tight-knit homogenous groups, and whether or not there is Christian privilege at work in US society.  Marion finishes with some reflections about what she and Prof. Shady learned throughout the process of conceptualizing, researching, and writing this book.  Recorded: February 10, 2017.



Prof. Marion Larson’s bio at Bethel University.

Prof. Sara Shady’s bio at Bethel University.

From Bubble to Bridge: Educating Christians for a Multifaith World, by Marion Larson and Sara Shady.

Interfaith Youth Corps.


Hunter Baker on the Future of Higher Education.

Joseph Castleberry on Religious-Based Higher Education.

Chris Gehrz on the Crisis of Christian Colleges.

Darin Mather on Evangelicals and Racial Attitudes.

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