Interdisciplinary Religion Group

The Interdisciplinary Religion Group (IRG) is an informal working group of graduate students and faculty members whose interests involve the study of religion.  Our hope is to provide a forum where participants can workshop research-in-progress, discuss theoretical and practical issues involved in the academic study of religion, and form connections across departments at UW-Madison.  As our name suggests, we welcome participants from across the humanities and social sciences.  The IRG aims to hold monthly meetings.

If you are interested in receiving regular updates about the activities of the IRG, please contact one of the coordinators: David Schulz or Dr. Eric Carlsson.

Spring 2022

Open to graduate students and faculty members.

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We have decided to take a break with the IRG at this time. We hope to continue to discern what’s next for the IRG and our extended network of those committed to the study of religion.If you would like to be a part of planning future events, especially next year and beyond, please don’t hesitate to contact us at crgc@wisc.edu. Until then, please subscribe to our mailing list for updates on any relevant events.

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Meet the Coordinators

Mukadas Abdullah

My name is Mukadas, and I am a Senior studying Psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I was born in Moscow, Russia and have grown up in Waukesha, Wisconsin. Growing up in two different continents, I have met and been around people of different faiths. This has given me exposure to different religions , but also has sparked my curiosity to better understand other faiths. As someone who grew up and practices Islam, in countries which are not majority Muslim I had to understand my faith for myself. I hope to learn more about different faiths through being a CRGC fellow, and fostering dialogues that may be difficult but necessary in understanding those faiths.  

Masood Akhtar

Position title: President and Founder at We Are Many - United Against Hate

Masood Akhtar is an Indian-born proud American Muslim entrepreneur and activist. Akhtar has been living in Madison for over 35 years. Akhtar has founded and led multiple businesses and has also been actively involved with numerous community projects. One of Akhtar’s most visible efforts is a statewide, non-partisan movement he founded called We Are Many-United Against Hate with a focus on teaching forgiveness and peace, addressing the root causes of hate, bigotry, and racism, and building inclusive communities while empowering youth. Akhtar’s movement is not about us vs. them. In 2022, President Biden recognized Akhtar as a “Uniter” along with 18 others from across the country at the “United We Stand” summit at the White House on September 15.

Rida Ali

As-Salamuʿalaykum! My name is Rida Ali and I am a junior studying Political Science and International Studies, while pursuing certificates in Political Economy, Philosophy, and Politics, and Integrated Liberal Studies. I was born and raised in central India, and moved to Milwaukee, WI when I was young. My family and I are practicing Muslims, so growing up in a country as diverse as India had a profound impact on my perspective on religion and the value of respect and co-existence. With sociopolitical conflicts stemming from religious differences rising around the world, especially in my home country of India, I believe it is more important than ever to engage in productive interfaith dialogue to build more meaningful connections and understanding that can, hopefully, play a small but valuable role in creating a more inclusive campus and world. With the Interfaith Fellowship in the Center for Interfaith Dialogue, I hope to continue learning more about the role of religion in our community, and how we can create engaging interfaith programming on campus.

Rida Ali

As-Salamuʿalaykum! My name is Rida Ali and I am a junior studying Political Science and International Studies, while pursuing certificates in Political Economy, Philosophy, and Politics, and Asian American Studies. I was born and raised in central India, and moved to Milwaukee, WI when I was young. My family and I are practicing Muslims, so growing up in a country as diverse as India had a profound impact on my perspective on religion and the value of respect and co-existence. With sociopolitical conflicts stemming from religious differences rising around the world, especially in my home country of India, I believe it is more important than ever to engage in productive interfaith dialogue to build more meaningful connections and understanding that can, hopefully, play a small but valuable role in creating a more inclusive campus and world. With the CRGC Interfaith Fellowship, I hope to learn more about the role religion plays in other Fellows’ lives and work together to dismantle prejudices to achieve our shared goals of creating more inclusivity and community.

Shuaib Aljabaly

Hello! My name is Shuaib Aljabaly and I am a senior at UW-Madison studying Computer Sciences. I was born in Yemen and moved with my family to America at a very early age. Growing up in a Muslim Household in Coldwater, MI, I attended English school on weekdays and Islamic Arabic school on weekends. Religion is the most important thing to me, but it wasn’t until I came here to campus that I began to ask myself the serious questions, seeing how strong my faith really was. Coming to Madison, WI, I’ve met Muslims and non-Muslims of very different cultures and want to continue these conversations, mixing my knowledge of Islam with others’. Having conversations with friends and teammates here at UW has led me to realize that the way to counter misinformation and Islamophobia is to have open-minded discussion on different beliefs. I am excited about the CRGC fellowship and the chance to exchange in dialogue with other fellows to make a change on campus.

Anna Aversa

Hello! My name is Anna and I am a junior majoring in Journalism and pursuing a certificate in Religious Studies. I am from Cedarburg, Wisconsin (just north of Milwaukee) where the population is predominantly Christian. I was raised in a Catholic household and went to weekly Christian Formation classes as well as attended mass every Sunday. After being Confirmed at age 17 I began to take my faith into my own hands, asking questions about my religion. After my Confirmation I grew stronger in my faith, by attending Catholic conferences, camps, and eventually Christian groups on campus. As I grew older I became fascinated by religions outside of my own. Understanding other religions allows me to understand others better. I look forward to learning more through the Interfaith Fellowship Program and participating in important conversations surrounding religion. 

Sean Barada

Hi! My name is Sean Barada, a Mechanical Engineering junior here at UW. I grew up in California and was raised as a Roman Catholic. Every Sunday until my confirmation when I was 14, I attended Sunday school at my local church. My deep interest in religion, however, began during high school. I attended a private catholic school that was able to teach religions from across the world in depth, unlike many public schools in the area. It opened my mind to the beauty of all religion. My interest in religion continued through my general education requirements, expanding into philosophy and history as well. When the pandemic struck, I was able to take time away from my studies, allowing me to contemplate my beliefs and strengthen my connection to the world around me. I would still identify as Roman Catholic if asked today, but believe that all religions have facets that can improve the human experience—offering a deep connection to the minds of our ancestors

Brett Bertucio

Position title: Interdisciplinary Religion Group Coordinator

Email: bertucio@wisc.edu

Brett is a doctoral student in the Educational Policy Studies and Curriculum and Instruction departments. His research examines how American judges, curriculum developers, and educators understand church-state relations. As his work spans disciplines (historical and sociological) and professional communities (legal, political, and educational), he appreciates the possibility the Interdisciplinary Religion Group provides to meet students and scholars who approach religion from different academic and personal backgrounds.

Param Bhandare

My background took me from a Christian kindergarten and elementary school, to a Hindu middle school, and a secular, perhaps Perennialist, high school — while my parents delved into various guruships and forms of Eastern mysticism. This background has led me to want to reconcile different faiths’ philosophies in my own life and thinking, lately adapting them in process philosophy, but also something I continue to explore. For me, the religious experience is two-fold. While most recently I’ve been concerned about the intellectual aspects of religion, I am also seeking practice and the emotional side. Maybe you could say I yearn for an instinctual faith, which nevertheless remains rational — one that can be integrated into my career and life. Ultimately, the fellowship will help me in my search, and I hope my participation in the fellowship helps others as well.

View posts from Param Bhandare

Max Bibicoff

My name is Max and I am a senior studying Strategic Communication with a certificate in Jewish Studies. I have sought many opportunities to explore my Jewish identity over the past three years on campus, most recently spending the spring semester abroad studying at Tel Aviv University in Israel. Growing up in a suburb of a Connecticut, religious observance did not play a central role in my life. I was surrounded by many people who shared my family’s background, and I only began to question what it meant to be Jewish once I was older and getting ready to head off to college. Learning about different religious philosophies and spiritual practices fascinates me, and I am excited to have a role in building an understanding and compassionate climate for interreligious dialogue. I believe that true cooperation and understanding lie on the other side of unity, and I look forward to building bridges across different religious orientations.

Meghana Brandl

I’m a Senior majoring in History and want to eventually go on to get my Masters in International Relations and become a diplomat. I grew up in the suburbs of Austin, Texas in a mainly Catholic household with strong Hindu influences. I became an agnostic atheists at age 10 and am now the Outreach Chair of Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. Through my work with the Center, I hope to get the secular community more involved in interfaith work.

Jacob Brevard

My name is Jacob Brevard and I am a sophomore majoring in Computer Science. I’m also pursuing a Certificate in Entrepreneurship. I have lived in 4 different states (WI, MI, IL, and WA) throughout various points in my life. I was brought up in a Catholic family, having many strong role models to follow in my faith. I received 3 holy sacraments in the Catholic faith: baptism, first communion, and confirmation. The deep connection between my family and God lead me to become interested in interreligious dialogue to not only grow in my faith but to learn about all faiths and what they believe in. The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry is a great opportunity which provides a safe place for students to hold these critical discussions. I am also a member on the University of Wisconsin Fishing Team and work in the Housing Assignments Office as a Housing Ambassador. I look forward to meeting many new people and deepening our understandings of each other and God. I look forward to meeting and getting to know all the CRGC fellows this year.

Noah Brown

Hi there, my name is Noah and I am a sophomore at UW–Madison majoring in History and Environmental Studies. I’m from Montclair, New Jersey and I am an American Jew with background in conservative and reconstructionist Jewish communities back in New Jersey, here in Madison, and in Israel. I am lucky enough to have been able to travel and study in Israel, where I participated in difficult and necessary conversations with leaders of Jewish, Palestinian, Bedouin, Christian, and Muslim communities. I see the CRGC fellowship as a unique opportunity and space to listen to and be heard by those who have a similar investment in sharing meaningful cultural experiences and coming together to make Madison a more welcoming and integrated community. I look forward to continuing discussions about faith, Israel, and cultural understanding at the CRGC and adding to the conversation my background as a Jew in America and in Israel.

Julia Brunson

My name is Julia Brunson, and I am a sophomore majoring in History. I am from the East Side of Milwaukee, and grew up within a reform Jewish community. During middle school and high school, I went to public school, and did not see many other Jewish students. When I began attending UW-Madison, the situation reversed. I now participate weekly at UW-Hillel and with other Jewish groups on campus.

I joined the CRGC because I think religious literacy and dialogue are crucial to creating a welcoming and knowledgeable atmosphere at UW-Madison. It is our duty as members of various faiths and beliefs to work with and for the sake of each other. Promoting dialogue, events, and shared experiences between all faiths creates a structure that is far more sturdy than one group standing on its own. It is also far more rewarding.

Jonathan Bryan

Good day! My name is Jonathan Bryan, and I am a third-year student at the University of Wisconsin – Madison majoring in Neurobiology, Molecular and Cell Biology, and Psychology. I grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, in a Catholic household. Over this past summer, I began to explore and interact with religious identities beyond my own to gain greater insight into different beliefs and practices. I consider religion, or lack thereof, an integral component of one’s identity and how an individual understands life, ethics, morals, and relationships. As a pre-medicine student, I’m intrigued to learn more about how religion influences health comprehension and care. Interreligious dialogue through the CRGC Fellowship will provide me the opportunity to investigate my own faith, other world beliefs, and how religion influences healthcare, which I will extend into my professional life.

Rev. Michael Burch

Position title: Executive Director at The Crossing

Rev. Michael Burch has decades of ministry, non-profit and university experiences, including university teaching and coaching at the University of California, Davis, Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. He completed seminary training in the Graduate Theological Union-UC Berkeley joint MA program and a graduate degree in ancient Mediterranean religions and philosophies at Brown University. He was a faculty member at the Berkeley School of Theology for many years, teaching courses in Christian origins and public theology. He also has significant experience in interfaith collaborations especially among Abrahamic traditions, and 20 years of pastoral ministry at churches on West and East coasts, including The First Baptist Church in America (ca. 1638) in Providence, RI. Michael formerly served at the University of Wisconsin-Madison as an assistant coach. He has years of community organizing experience, including two nationally publicized student civil rights cases.

Walter Camp

Hi, my name is Walter Camp, and I’m a Junior in the biochemistry major. I was born and raised on a farm in rural Minnesota. I grew up without any semblance of religion in my house. Partly because of my detachment from organized religion and spirituality on the whole, I found an interest in the philosophy of religion and its different sociological aspects throughout high school and college. I still don’t consider myself to formally practice any religion, but I have found a particular interest in learning about Taoism and other practices that delve into meditation. I am excited to continue my own learning of others’ faith as well as help encourage thoughtful communication wherever I can because I think trying to understand viewpoints beyond what I’ve ever had the chance to consider is exciting.

Zawadi Caroll

My name is Zawadi Carroll. I am a junior at UW-Madison hoping to double major in Industrial Engineering and Art History. I am from Washington, DC and was raised in the black Christian faith practicing both Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal tradition. I came to UW-Madison through the Posse Foundation with a cohort of 10 other students from the DC area. I work for the Campus Women’s Center, do African dance, and sing in my spare time. I am also passionate about plants, social justice, and holistic living. In DC, my church Turner Memorial AME frequently did combined services and choirs with the historic synagogue on Sixth and I street. Growing up around people of several different religious traditions was truly a blessing and undoubtedly shaped me into who I am today. I currently practice Christianity and aspects of African spirituality. Interfaith activities and dialogue were something that was common in my home city, so I am excited to continue that tradition here at the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry.

Matthias Chan

My name’s Matthias and I’m a sophomore majoring in Computer Science at UW-Madison.  I was raised in a non-denominational Christian home in Wisconsin, and through high school and college I explored the many diverse beliefs and schools of thought in Christianity. I now identify as Unitarian Universalist.  In my free time, I have a passion  for studying world religions and talking to their practitioners about their beliefs and practices.  Through the CRGC, I hope to bring a greater awareness to faiths that students in Wisconsin are familiar with and unfamiliar with.  I want to show the students at UW-Madison new aspects and perspectives on the faiths they have seen growing up, and to help familiarize them with faiths that they may not have encountered before.  There are a great range of beliefs that I never knew about growing up in Wisconsin, and I’m excited to help bring awareness of those beliefs to the Madison student community!

Ben Charnecki

Hello, my name is Ben Charnecki. I am from Milwaukee. Currently, I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am studying Philosophy and Creative Writing. I love tennis, debate, surfing, and hiking. A significant percentage of my family is Mormon, but I was brought up to find my own faith. Through my personal journey, I not only gained a deeper understanding of myself, but a deeper understanding of what faith means to other people. I developed an outlook that works for me through philosophy, but I am here to learn more about the beliefs of those around me. It is incredibly important that we strive to understand the religions, cultures, and values of others. As an interfaith fellow, I plan to play a part in cultivating dialogue between perspectives. I also plan to develop events around campus exploring philosophical questions through a multitude of faith-based lenses.

Chandra Chouhan

Hi! My name is Chandra Chouhan and I’m a rising senior at UW-Madison majoring in Global Health and International Studies. I was raised in a Hindu household in the suburbs of Milwaukee, WI, while attending a Christian school for the greater part of my upbringing. My faith has provided me with a sense of purpose and meaning, helping me find the deeper significance in life’s everyday moments. My faith has been a source of guidance and meaning throughout my life. My parents taught me how to embrace the teachings of all religions and adopt their fundamental values which are common to all walks of life. While growing up, I was exposed to an array of religious practices having visited many places of worship and engaged in various religious practices. Through these experiences, I learned how to draw connections between different faiths through their stories, traditions, beliefs, and values. I learned that people perceive their religion far differently than how it is portrayed to the rest of the world. Through the Center for Interfaith Dialogue I aim to help educate people about all religions to foster an inclusive campus culture where we can freely observe our faiths and appreciate each other’s beliefs.

Cole Cimoch

Hello, my name is Cole and I am a junior studying neurobiology and philosophy. For the first 12 years of my life I lived in Costa Mesa, California before moving to Franklin, Wisconsin. I have identified as a nondenominational Christian for the last six years and have participated in life groups, attended various churches and more recently been involved in CRU a Christian organization at UW Madison. Religious education is important because the modern world we live in is very divided and polarized. The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry creates a safe open space for important dialogues to take place, and these dialogues are essential in order to foster an inclusive community here at U-Madison. I am thrilled to be a CRGC fellow so I can learn more about other faith systems, and hopefully offer useful insights to our group discussions. Outside of CRGC I am an active member of best buddies and I am on the board of the undergraduate neuroscience society.

Charles Cohen

Position title: E. Gordon Fox Professor Emeritus; Former Director, Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions

Charles L. Cohen, the E. Gordon Fox Professor of American Institutions, Emeritus, has taught and written about colonial British North America, American religious history, and the braided histories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. His scholarship has been recognized by, among other awards, the Allan Nevins Prize of the Society of American Historians for his work on the psychology of Puritan religious experience, terms on the councils of both the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and the American Society for Church History, and appointment as Distinguished Lecturer, Organization of American Historians. His teaching has been honored by two awards from the UW-Madison History Department, the Emil Steiger Award for Excellence by UW-Madison, a Phi Beta Kappa award from UW-Madison, and listing in Who’s Who of American Teachers. He created UW-Madison’s Advanced Placement Summer Institute; directed the Religious Studies Program from 1997-2005; and was Founding Director the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions (LISAR), whose mission was to create better understandings of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam by encouraging ongoing discussion of these traditions and their interrelationships among scholars, members of those traditions, and the general public.

Libby Cohen

Hi! My name is Libby Cohen and I am a senior at UW Madison majoring in Communication Sciences and Disorders with a certificate in Religious Studies. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and come from a Conservative Jewish background. My religious identity is extremely important to me and helps guide my morals and values. I grew up attending Jewish Day School, Jewish summer camp as a camper and counselor, and being a tutor for incoming Bar/Bat Mitzvah students, as well as being involved in Jewish life on campus. I am fascinated by the ways in which people learn to lead and are guided by their religious and spiritual identities. I also find comfort in knowing the ways in which these traditions influence people’s everyday lives. I am interested in the intersection between long-standing traditions and modern religious practices, and I am looking forward to learning from my peers in order to deepen my understanding of religion in today’s world.

Bryce Couperus

Hello! My name is Bryce and I am a Junior studying Russian and Criminal Justice. I was raised in a strong Christian home and am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Religion has always been an important part of my life and has shaped my worldview and the person I am today. I actively participate in my local congregation where I currently serve as an instructor for Sunday meetings. Among other religious opportunities, I previously had the unique experience of living in Russia and Kazakhstan for two years as a volunteer. During my time there I was able to interact with individuals from a variety of diverse backgrounds, which has left a profound impact on my life and has fueled a desire to learn of other religions and cultures. I am excited to be able to connect and interact with other fellows and individuals throughout the upcoming year as we learn from each other’s experiences and encourage understanding and cooperation between different faith groups and beliefs.

Emma Cox

My name is Emma and I use she/her/hers pronouns. I am a senior studying Community and Nonprofit Leadership with a Certificate in Criminal Justice and I hope to attend law school after graduation. I spent the first six years of my life in Champaign, Illinois, where my family participated in a Presbyterian congregation. When my family moved to a suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, my parents found themselves unable to locate a new place of worship that felt similar. I did not think much about religion until high school, where I then started to identify with atheism. At UW-Madison, I have not found myself in intentional spaces to discuss religious identities and beliefs, which is why I am thrilled to be a part of the CRGC’s Fellowship Program. I worked at the Multicultural Student Center on campus for two years, facilitating identity-based social justice dialogues in the community, and I hope to gain a more thorough understanding of how religion and faith shapes one’s identity and experiences.

Emerson Cronheim-Strasser

Hello! My name is Emerson Cronheim-Strasser and I am a sophomore majoring in Social Work and Psychology. I grew up in a Jewish household, understanding the importance of my Jewish identity. Both sides of my family were in the Holocaust, and for me, Judaism helps me keep their stories and memories alive. I love being surrounded by the Jewish community and teaching others about it. However, my understanding of other religions is minimal and I want to learn about other communities and how they intersect. Using religion as a means for social justice is incredibly important to me, and I am excited to explore this with everyone.

Sooraj Dash

My name is Sooraj Dash, and I am a senior majoring in Economics and Political Science, along with a certificate in Entrepreneurship. I was born in India, grew up in Northern Ireland, and relocated to the United States six years ago to Brookfield, Wisconsin. I was brought up in a Hindu family, who are also followers of the Indian saint, Shirdi Sai Baba, who stood for the message of humanity being one. Due to these influences at home, I was strongly drawn to interreligious dialogue from a very young age, where I would frequently get into discussions with family and community members on how to construct a world where all communities could exist as one, peacefully. The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry is a platform which I feel can provide a space to discuss that message of coexistence and unity with the campus community. The message that I carry is that we may all be different in our beliefs, opinions, traditions and cultures, but we can come together through dialogue, discussion and understanding of each other to cultivate an environment of acceptance and coexistence. I hope in this fellowship that we set a direction towards this goal by holding workshops and discussion sections within the community where we educate each other about our beliefs while also setting an atmosphere of understanding. Aside from interreligious dialogue, I love sports, reading, music, fashion and photography. I love travelling the world and I look forward especially to visiting the Southern Hemisphere, which I have not yet been to. I am excited for my senior year of college, especially being a CRGC fellow!

Peyton David

I got involved in the CRGC after writing a feature for The Badger Herald. After attending an interfaith potluck with the CRGC and writing about interfaith dialogue, I became very interested in joining the group. Aside from increasing religious dialogue on campus and improving campus climate for students of minority religions, one goal for my fellowship is to partner with religious institutions around campus and create a homeless shelter that’s focused on building skills and making homelessness temporary. I’m also a managing editor at The Badger Herald, a brother of the community service fraternity, (Alpha Phi Omega-Beta Theta chapter), and a volunteer for student orientation. My hobbies include knitting in excess, baking in excess, running (not in excess), and going to the Madison farmer’s markets to sample cheese curds.

Ethan Dickler

My name is Ethan Dickler. I am a senior English literature major with a certificate in European Studies. I am interested in religious pluralism in the United States and how it works. I grew up in a Judeo-Christian family where religious debate was the subtext to every conversation. My mother is Catholic, while my father is Jewish, so I am always interested in learning about new ideas concerning toleration and interfaith. Although I went to Catholic school and identify as Catholic, I am familiar with Jewish culture and customs. Prior to college, religion was never a primary concern of my own. However, upon learning about my faith’s history and community in Madison, I began practicing more regularly. As an Interfaith Fellow, I am excited to discuss religion with peers from different religions and backgrounds. I especially look forward to speaking about my own experiences with religious turmoil and finding methods to ease tensions and learn how to coexist with other customs and cultures without erasing my own personal beliefs and ideas.

Josh Didier

Position title: Lead Campus Minister at Campus Collective Christian Ministries

Josh has been serving with Campus Collective for two years. He has a B.S. in Ministry Leadership from Moody Bible Institute, and an M.A. in Strategic Communication from Liberty University. He served as the associate pastor of a non-denominational Christian church in Missouri for six years before moving to Wisconsin to serve college students. Josh lives in Madison with his wife and four boys.

Sarah Eckhardt

My name is Sarah Eckhardt, and I am a senior studying Economics with a math emphasis. I grew up in a Reform Jewish household here in Madison, and recently returned from a semester abroad in Jerusalem. Religions fascinate me for two reasons; how they relate to economic institutions, and what they teach us about the human experience. I do not believe that any single religious tradition holds all the answers to the big questions of human life, nor that only religions hold them. But a serious consideration of what it means to be alive cannot be made without exploring them. I look forward to learning from my peers about their experiences with faith, and discovering all the ways it influences our worlds.

Ghaida Edreis

Salam, you guys! My name is Ghaida Edreis, and I am a current senior pursuing Legal Studies with Middle Eastern Studies and Criminal Justice degrees. I was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, lived there till I was three years old, and I was reared primarily in Libya, Tripoli, before moving to the United States. So, basically, I’ve noticed disparities between identification and religion, and I’ve learnt a lot, but most importantly, that I am my own person as a result of it. My entire family is a devout Muslim; therefore, I was raised with good information and lessons that helped me grow closer to my religion. Nonetheless, I developed a strong attachment to it. While I am extremely strong in my faith, I also like learning about different religions that I am not familiar with! That is why I decided to participate in the CRGC Interfaith Fellowship: to freely discuss our faiths, why we believe in them, and how they affect us. This fellowship may also provide excellent connections and a community where we can meet others who share our faith’s interests! Through this program, I wish to develop a better understanding of various religions and their customs.

Mohamed El Ragaby

Hi, my name is Mohamed El Ragaby, and I am a fourth-year student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Biology on a pre-optometry track. I grew up in Windsor, ON Canada in a Muslim household and a large Muslim community. Having grown up around many Muslims and attending majority Muslim schools, I was able to interact with different religious backgrounds beyond my own. I consider religion an integral part of my identity and what gives me anchorage in life. As a pre-health major, I am focused on integrating my religion beliefs and practices into that field. I believe that by engaging in fruitful conversations in the CRGC fellowship, I will be able to investigate and connect with my own faith even deeper.

Osama Fattouh

My name is Osama and I am a junior majoring in Neurobiology. Growing up in a town called Middleton, I was one of few Muslims that lived in the town. Being one of the few Muslims, I faced challenges that not many of my friends had to face. However, those challenges made me a stronger person and helped me appreciate my religious identity even more. A part of appreciating my religious identity came through my mosque where I was able to meet other Muslims and learn more about my religion. I was also exposed to a number of cultures and ethnicities. I hope that my experience with interfaith conversation, knowledge of Islam, and challenges I’ve faced with religious identity that I can provide more to the conversation. I am proud to be a CRGC fellow and I am looking forward to learning more about other religions. I will do everything I can to help strengthen the dialogue and make everyone feel welcome. In this day and age interfaith dialogue is even more important than before and we must continue participating in it.

Adam Fendos

My name is Adam and I am an International Studies major and 2nd year student at UW-Madison. I was raised ELCA Christian but identify as atheist or agnostic. I was born and raised in Milwaukee and the inequalities I witnessed there pushed me towards a study of political science and economics, particularly of the Marxist tradition. I see the idea of religious tradition as a powerful tool for building unity but find that organized religion can just as easily divide a people. I spent the past summer studying Arabic and its connections to Islam in Fez, Morocco, and the previous winter I helped prepare Religious Education classes for Christian children in El Salvador. As a CRCG fellow I hope to participate in a discussion that can begin to reconcile the divisions I see in my community and abroad.

Kristina Fiedler

Hello! My name is Kristina Fiedler and I am from Chicago. I am currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying Environmental Science and German. I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran with some Brazilian spiritual flares. In high school, I developed a passion for learning about other cultures, languages, and belief systems. Through my friends and teachers, I accumulated knowledge on Islam, Baha’i-ism, Agnosticism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. My exploration led me to reflect on my own faith. I now identify as Theist with an increasing interest in Buddhism as a philosophical guide. A theist believes in a higher power but does not ascribe to any particular religion or set of practices. As the pandemic comes to somewhat of an end, I am excited to meet new people and have conversations that can engage my curiosity. As a Fellow, I am eager to utilize and share my passions for research and discovery. I am most looking forward to the interfaith dialogue that I will take part in as a CRGC Fellow and I am excited to continue diversifying my spiritual horizons.

Kristina Fiedler

Hello! My name is Kristina Fiedler and I am from Chicago. I am currently a Junior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying Environmental Science and German. I was raised as a Missouri Synod Lutheran with some Brazilian spiritual flares. In high school, I developed a passion for learning about other cultures, languages, and belief systems. Through my friends and teachers, I accumulated knowledge on Islam, Baha’i-ism, Agnosticism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. My exploration led me to reflect on my own faith. I now identify as Theist with an increasing interest in Buddhism as a philosophical guide. A theist believes in a higher power but does not ascribe to any particular religion or set of practices. As the pandemic comes to somewhat of an end, I am excited to meet new people and have conversations that can engage my curiosity. As a Fellow, I am eager to utilize and share my passions for research and discovery. I am most looking forward to the interfaith dialogue that I will take part in as a CRGC Fellow and I am excited to continue diversifying my spiritual horizons.

Devorah Fisher

I am a senior majoring in Music Composition and pursuing a certificate in Middle Eastern Studies. I was born and raised in Milwaukee and attended religious Jewish schools for 12 years, where I learned all of the usual subjects in addition to Judaic Studies. Until coming to UW, I took my daily immersion in Jewish community for granted, but when I arrived on campus I truly began to appreciate the work that goes in to creating and sustaining a healthy and welcoming community. With each passing year, the importance of strengthening the bonds between the desperate sub-communities in our country, and in the world at large, become increasingly apparent to me, and the need to make the world a better, safer place becomes increasingly urgent. After being active in the Jewish community for years, I have turned to the Interfaith Fellowship Program as an exciting way of learning to connect my community to those of my neighbors.

Calvin Floyd

Hi there, my name is Calvin Floyd and I’ll be a junior this fall studying History, Environmental Studies, and European Studies. I’m from Ann Arbor, Michigan and grew up in a Baptist church which gave me a strong foundation in my faith. Since coming to UW-Madison, I’ve been surrounded by many faiths and cultures and I’ve taken an interest in exploring each of those as much as possible, as I find it not only helps me in my faith journey, but it helps to make this special school a more welcoming and inclusive community. This past winter, I was honored to travel to the Middle East as a member of the 2020 Student Leadership Delegation to Israel. While in Israel, we carried out enriching conversations with Israelis and Palestinians of varying faith backgrounds and cultural experiences, and explored the region’s many holy sites. This experience showed me how rich difficult conversations can be and how much one can grow through empathetically learning about experiences that differ from your own. I’m excited to continue those conversations here on campus while meeting the other CRGC fellows and growing in community together.

Kyra Fox

My name is Kyra Fox, and I am a senior majoring in International Studies and Psychology with a certificate in African Studies. Coming from an interfaith family, dialogue across difference has always been fundamental to how I construct my identity. My experiences with interreligious dialogue at UW have transformed my own set of beliefs – and I am eager to be challenged by this year’s CRGC Scholars. I am enticed by the challenge of finding harmony in what seems like insurmountable differences – religious, political, or otherwise – and more than ever, I sense the urgency of this task. I see religion as a space not only for worship, but also for social change. I hope that the CRGC can strengthen and amplify the voice of interfaith unity at UW, working to dismantle intolerance and injustice while showing that it is possible – and powerful – to unite in the face of those who would like to see us divided.

Erik Franze

My name is Erik and I am a junior majoring in Political Science and Environmental Studies and pursuing a certificate in American Indian Studies. I grew up in Waukesha, Wisconsin, which is just outside Milwaukee, and was raised in a progressive Presbyterian family. I am active on campus at Pres House, and especially passionate about the areas in which my faith intersects with social justice. I hope through my time at the CRGC to apply these interests of mine to work on campus and beyond, through interfaith collaboration with other fellows who have a similar drive to do good but who also have diverse backgrounds and ideas. I volunteer with an interfaith organization that conducts immigration detention center visitations, and I have learned there that interfaith connections foster greater compassion, sympathy, and progress in our shared world. I hope this year to be a part of a vibrant interfaith network of students like this with the CRGC. Outside of campus clubs like Model UN and debate, I spend my time in the outdoors running, swimming, backpacking, and doing photography.

Lilly Freemyer

My name is Lilly Freemyer and I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying Political Science. I am from Washington, D.C., where I was raised in an Episcopalian home. My religion was pressed upon me as a young child, but when I started attending an Episcopalian school at the age of nine, my faith journey was primarily left up to myself. In high school, I served as an acolyte at the Washington National Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, where, I would argue, my personal faith and my curiosity about other faith traditions expanded. I pursued the CRGC Interfaith Fellows Program in light of my First Year Interest Group, which circled around the city of Jerusalem and the three major religions that coincide in that holy city. I am looking forward to engaging in this reciprocal program because I am anxious to learn from other participants, in addition to talking about my personal experiences.

Srini Gadi

Position title: AHA Hindu Temple

Genevieve Grade

Hello! My name is Genevieve, and this year I’ll be a junior studying sociology, public policy, and education services. I grew up in Waunakee, Wisconsin with one devoutly Lutheran parent, the other a committed Unitarian Universalist. My childhood experience exploring and participating in these two faiths gave religion a place of prominence in my life early on. As I grew, I became interested in the interfaith work emphasized by my UU congregation, and when I entered college, I found myself drawn even closer to Christianity. The spring semester of my sophomore year, I interned at Nehemiah, a local faith-based nonprofit. There, I worked on developing and promoting an educational course on both white Christian churches’ past complicity in racism as well as their capacity for positive social change. The experience was personally groundbreaking, and I remain committed to examining the social impact of not only my own two religions, but that of religion as a whole. I could not be more excited to engage with and learn from the Interfaith Fellows program this year! Outside of the CRGC, I enjoy throwing pottery, baking, and cuddling my housemates’ cats.

Rabbi Judy Greenberg

Position title: Rabbi & Senior Jewish Educator at UW Hillel Foundation

Judy works at Hillel as Rabbi and Senior Jewish Educator. Judy loves working with students as they explore how they want to live this next chapter of their lives. With Shabbat and Torah study as cornerstones of her work, Judy helps students to take hold of Judaism as their inheritance and to use it in their lives.

Before moving to Madison, Judy taught Jewish studies at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in the Chicago suburbs. She was ordained at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where she also received a Master’s degree in Midrash. Originally from the Philadelphia suburbs, Judy’s Jewish life flourished during college, where she spent most of her time at Harvard Hillel. Judy loves to read, bake, and knit.

 She lives on the Near West Side with her husband Dan and their three kids.

Sophie Gumble

My name is Sophie, and I am studying pre-nursing at UW with a plan to apply to the nursing school this coming school year, as well as pursuing a Health and the Humanities certificate. I grew up in a small town of about 2,000 people in southeastern Wisconsin, where many of my peers were Evangelical Christians, and, particularly because I grew up in an atheistic household, my main concept of religion came from what and who was around me. However, since coming to Madison and branching out and exploring, I have begun to understand what religion means to different communities, other individuals, and myself. In my experiences of understanding my own beliefs and who I am, I have been able to see others’ religious beliefs and practices, and I have become deeply interested in learning about different religions. I especially enjoyed attending an Interfaith Shabbat at UW-Hillel, in which the Shabbat service and dinner invited interfaith dialogue. I also have a particular interest in how faith, religion, and culture influence views of health, wellness, and healing within communities, and how it affects individual choices. I hope that my experience as a CRGC fellow will help to strengthen interfaith unity and understanding on campus, and help me better understand how religion and faith shape who we are.

Josh Hall

My name is Josh Hall and I am a junior majoring in Biology on a Pre-Med track. I was born and raised in De Pere, Wisconsin, a suburb of Green Bay. My parents are Catholic and Lutheran respectively, and I grew up attending the Catholic Church. When I was 17, I was Confirmed, and upon leaving to attend college at UW-Madison, began exploring my faith. In high school, I had little involvement with religious groups, but I now look forward to being an Interfaith Fellow and engaging in conversation with those of different faiths. The dialogue from the CRGC will be an important addition to my academic experience as a STEM student in Madison and I hope it will help me as a professional when pursuing a career in medicine. I am excited to gain a greater understanding of my own faith, and how faith affects the lives of those around me.

Sophia Halverson

Hello! My name is Sophia, and I’m a senior majoring in English, History, and International Studies and pursuing certificates in European Studies, Art History, and Folklore Studies. Both sides of my family are Catholic, although the people in my life who have had the greatest impact on my faith are my mother and grandmothers. I attended a Catholic school from kindergarten to eighth grade and was confirmed in high school. Although my spirituality is important to me, as I have gotten older my religious beliefs and practices have not been informed only by Catholicism or the ideas put out by the church hierarchy. Interacting with my faith is important to me, but that doesn’t always happen within the church setting. I’m more inspired by personal interactions with people both in and outside of the faith, by the stories and lives of the saints, and by visiting religious sites. As a CRGC fellow I’m excited to talk to and learn from other people with different faith backgrounds (or no faith background at all) about the impact spirituality has had on their lives. I’m also excited to learn more about other religions while being able to share my own thoughts and experiences.

Zahiah Hammad

My name is Zahiah Hammad and I am a sophomore double majoring in Political Science and Journalism with a certificate in Gender Women Studies and African Studies. I am from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was raised in a Muslim home with a mother and father and five brothers. Since kindergarten I attended a private Islamic school that never made me feel like I was a part of a subordinate group. It was both a sheltered yet uplifting experience to be able to attend this school. From what I was able to learn in school to pushing myself to learn from my own experiences, I was able to shape the way I uniquely viewed religion based on spirituality, culture and my social life. I was taught that religion is what is perceived from the books inside a classroom, but outside a classroom I was able to recognize religion as a way of life that is distinct from person-to-person. Through finding more about myself, to balancing that with the traditional religion I was brought up with, I was able to view religion with a whole new perspective. The Interfaith Fellows Program is an opportunity for me to be able to learn about the ways different students view their relgion while being able to indulge in a community that will allow me to experience the different aspects that make religion what it is today.

Alyssa Hamrick

My name is Aly and I’m a sophomore currently studying History and Archaeology and hoping to eventually become a professor. I grew up in the Northern suburbs of Chicago in a diverse-but-mostly-Christian town and area. I was raised Presbyterian, but as I’ve been exposed to more spiritual walks of life in my first year of college I’ve begun exploring what religion means to me. As I come into my second year at UW, I’m eager to gain new perspectives on religion and in turn share those perspectives with those around me. Through my work with the CRGC and its interreligious outreach programs, I hope to create an environment in which those who are currently seeking out their own definition of spirituality can engage comfortably. It’s my hope that the Center and its dedication to open interfaith dialogue can foster healthy religious conversation on campus. Spirituality in its various forms can often be seen as a divisive topic, but it’s my intention to challenge myself and my peers at UW to focus on how it can work as a powerful force of unity.

Jake Henry

Hi! I’m Jake, I’m a Junior majoring in Microbiology from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I grew up in a very Reform Jewish Congregation, and this upbringing formed a lot of the ideas and values that I still hold to this day. Interfaith dialogue matters a lot to me because religion is in the world all around us, and it permeates social issues and political dialogues. My synagogue made me aware of this when we learned about world religions in Sunday school and how the differences and similarities of these faith practices impacted politics in their time and region of the globe. I was able to see the power of interfaith dialogue when my congregation partnered with other faith groups (as well as other non-faith-oriented groups) to protect same sex marriage in Minnesota. Seeing the successful, positive changes that were accomplished through interfaith partnerships made me realize how much I wanted to participate in and learn from interfaith groups. On a smaller scale, I’m a science major stuck in STEM classes all the time and getting a chance to learn about religions is exciting to me because it’s content that I normally wouldn’t be exposed to in my classes.

Sam Henschel

Hello! My name is Sam and I’m a sophomore studying Political Science and Strategic Communication. As someone who grew up in a predominantly Catholic family but identifies as an atheist, I am interested in the implications of religious dialogue and religion as a whole, which is why I’m excited to be a part of this community. Throughout the course of my major, I’ve been able to compare and understand different religious groups, and I’m excited to learn more about the intersections of religious groups and how they interact on a global scale. I’m also looking forward to learning about the historical roots of religious groups and how they have changed over time. I hope that through being a fellow I can learn more about the beliefs of others and how we can use them to change the world. 

Azariah Horowitz

My name is Azariah Horowitz and I am a junior majoring in Spanish and French with a certificate in Hebrew/Jewish Studies. I grew up in a Jewish household, attending Jewish elementary school in Milwaukee, before switching to public school for middle and high school. Although my immediate family has always practiced Judaism, my mother grew up Lutheran and converted to Judaism after I was born. I have family members on my dad’s side who are Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem, and other family members on my mom’s side who hadn’t really met many Jews at all before my mom and dad started dating. Before starting college at Madison, I spent three months in Israel learning Hebrew in a program for new immigrants and Palestinians entering the Israeli university system. I currently teach Hebrew School to a class of fifth graders at a synagogue off campus in Madison, as well as attending weekly Shabbat services and other programs at Hillel on campus. I plan on teaching in public elementary school eventually, and I think it is super important that teachers try their best to understand the cultural and religious backgrounds of their kids. I am super excited to be a part of CRGC and to be able to have conversations with people from all different faiths!

Sarbpal Singh Hundal

Position title: Sikh Society of Wisconsin-Madison (Madison Gurudwara)

Sarbpal Hundal immigrated to the United States with family in 1977. Sarbpal grew up in the Kansas City area as a Sikh and member of the Midwest Sikh Society. He was a member of and led the Sikh Youth Group for many years as a camp teacher for Sikh History. Sarbpal moved to Madison in 2002 for a job opportunity and became a member of the Sikh Society of Wisconsin-Madison where he is a teacher of Sikh history to the youth group. He actively volunteers and practices ‘seva’ (selfless service) with many volunteer opportunities in the Madison area. Sarbpal has also been a scoutmaster for Madison Scouting USA Troop for several years.

Najma Hurre

Hello! My name is Najma and I am a sophomore double majoring in Global health and Nursing and with a minor in digital studies. I grew up living across three continents being surrounded by a variety of religions. While I was raised in a practicing muslim household, having friends from other religions expanded my interest in faith from a young age. I spent 12 years of my life studying Islam whether in Islamic school or going to weekend school. The peak of my fascination with religion was my high school class about all different faiths and their origins. It wasn’t until studying the similarities between all religions did I realize interfaith conversations should be a priority. I hope that this will be a great opportunity to recognize and celebrate our similarities and differences.

Talia Ivry

Position title: Program Coordinator

Email: tivry@wisc.edu

Talia Ivry (she/her/hers) is the Program Coordinator at the Center for Interfaith Dialogue. Talia is originally from Madison and grew up just a few blocks from Camp Randall Stadium. She graduated from Pomona College in Claremont, California in December 2021 with a BA in Religious Studies, and minors in French and Psychological Science. As an undergraduate she worked with the chaplains’ office as the assistant to the Rabbi, coordinated the Refugee Action Network tutoring program, and participated in immersive religious studies programs in India, Israel, and France.

After graduating, Talia worked for the International and Domestic Programs Office (formerly Office of Study Abroad) at Pomona College, heading projects such as the Sagehens Abroad podcast, francophone student mentorship, and compiling resources for religious students abroad. She then taught English for a year in southwestern France, before working in nonprofit fundraising in southwestern Wisconsin.

Talia credits her passion for interfaith work to her Jewish upbringing and liberal arts education. She is committed to advocating on behalf of students’ religious needs and fostering an environment of greater openness, curiosity, and tolerance.

Asha Jain

Hi! I am a sophomore studying Biochemistry and Asian Languages and Cultures. I was born and raised Hindu, and like many others, my religion has become an integral part of my identity. Through my work with the CRGC, I hope to utilize my geographic and cultural background to facilitate interfaith discourse on our diverse campus. Outside of my academic interests, I enjoy traveling, photography, and hiking on nature paths.

Hali Jama

Hello, my name is Hali Jama. I am a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying marketing and international business with a certificate in environmental studies. I grew up in a Muslim household in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, but I always had exposure to other religions especially through my friends. Most of us came from different religious and ethnic backgrounds, so we would often teach each other about our religions, and I was always intrigued by this. Islam has always been a big part of my life and my values. Through this program, I hope to gain more insight into other religions and their practices.

Eryne Jenkins

My name is Eryne and I am a sophomore at UW-Madison. I am majoring in Biochemistry and pursuing a certificate in Public Policy with the intent of becoming a pharmacist. I grew up in Magnolia, Delaware, where I was raised in the Baptist Church. I continue to be involved in my faith community and am truly appreciative of the role my faith has in my life. In the midst of various challenges I face and uncertain situations, my faith has remained a constant and kept me grounded through it all. By transitioning to UW last fall, it was up to me to determine the role my Christian faith would play in my life in the absence of traditions that were instilled in me since childhood. I was able to find faith groups on campus and a supportive congregation that has supported my growth in and out of the church. I seek an understanding of the impact of other religions and beliefs on the lives of others. I believe active participation in interfaith dialogue to better understand the role of religion or the absence of formal religion in people’s lives is beneficial to all of us as we seek to eliminate marginalization and discrimination. In addition, as I pursue an education grounded with an international component as a Wisconsin International Scholar (WISc), it is increasingly important to understand national and international relations in the context of faith and religion. While we as a campus, nation, and as a globe continue working towards equity in other realms such as race and gender, I think it is also imperative that we look at religious equity. I am honored to be a CRGC fellow and look forward to being part of the interfaith dialogue among secular and religious communities. 

V. Rev. Dr. Gregory Jensen

Position title: Priest at Ss. Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Church

V. Rev. Dr. Gregory Jensen is a priest of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church USA and teaches pastoral theology and young adult faith formation at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Theological Seminary in South Bound Brook, NJ. He has a Ph.D. in spirituality and spiritual formation from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA.  His more than 15 years of pastoral experience with all aspects of clergy sexual misconduct includes investigating allegations, crafting disciplinary plans, advocating for victims, and helping parishes transition after an offending pastor was removed. Currently, he is the priest of Ss Cyril & Methodius Ukrainian Orthodox Church located on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where Fr. Gregory serves as a chaplain for Orthodox students. 

Daniel Johnson

Position title: Director of Technology and Media at Upper House

Prior to this role, Daniel served as a Young Life area director in Bettendorf, Iowa for ten years. And prior to his time in Iowa, he restarted a dormant Young Life ministry in Plano, Texas. Dan has pioneered and led many projects for Young Life across North America and beyond, with a focus on communications, social media, and technology needs.

Dan holds a leisure, youth and human services degree from the University of Northern Iowa, and is working toward a graduate degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary. Originally from the Madison area, Dan grew up in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin. He and his wife, Barbara, have five children–Henry, Lyla, Eli, Raphael, and Florence. He loves all things technology, Wisconsin sports, investing in the lives of young people, and spending time with his family.

Alisha Jones

Hi! My name is Alisha, and I use she/her pronouns. I am a senior studying cultural anthropology at UW with specific interests in identity, group behavior, and human/civil rights issues. Although I am from Fort Worth, TX, where the dominant religion is Christianity, I do not self-identify as a Christian (more agnostic than anything). Both on an academic and personal level, I love learning about the experiences of religious people and how this shapes their perceptions of the world around them. In addition, I am excited to gain fieldwork and writing experience, improve my ability to communicate across cultural boundaries, develop a more holistic grasp on the variety of ways in which religion manifests itself in the Madison community, and engage in meaningful interfaith dialogues.

Jaitri Joshi

My name is Jaitri Joshi, and I am a senior studying Biochemistry and Life Science communications. I grew up in Maple Grove, Minnesota. I was raised in a Hindu household and was able to see the fluidity of basic values in Hinduism that my parents have brought with them along their journey across continents. As a minority religion in America, it has been interesting to immerse myself into the religious experiences and celebrations of other groups and share what I have learned about my own faith. The teachings of my parents were supplemented by a Sunday school called Hindu-American Temple School led by passionate volunteers that allowed the application of faith-based concepts and history into our actions in today’s world. Faith is such an important facet of many lives, and to truly understand each other and the decisions we make, having discussions surrounding this can help us empathize and grow us a community- and I hope to do just that as a CRGC Fellow this year.

Sari Judge

Position title: Student Affairs Manager

Email: sjudge@wisc.edu

Sari Ratner Judge comes to the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry with a strong background in student services and communication. Along with her appointment, Sari serves as the Program Coordinator for the Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community where she assists first year students in navigating the startup ecosystem of both the UW-Madison campus and the city. Prior to this, Sari served as the Assistant to the Director for the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions where she learned first hand the importance of engaging students in interfaith dialogue.

Sari has been both a lecturer and advisor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication where she specialized in strategic communications. In her pre-Madison days, she worked in advertising account management for DDB and Leo Burnett. Sari earned her BA from the University of Chicago.

Jaskiran Kaur Sandhu

Hello! My name is Jaskiran Kaur Sandhu, and I am a rising junior majoring in Biology. I am from Madison, WI, and I am a Sikh. My faith has become a prominent aspect of my life because of my parents and family. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I would visit the Gurudwara (the Sikh temple) every week and attend Punjabi School, where I learned about Sikh history and the Punjabi/Gurmukhi language. Growing up as a Sikh, I realized over time how little is known about my religion. This became even more clear after the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting in 2012. From this tragedy, I learned how one’s ignorance can lead to harm, but also why spreading awareness and creating opportunities for interreligious dialogue can be so valuable. As a CRGC fellow, I am excited to meet students and learn about their different faiths while sharing knowledge about mine, have meaningful conversations about the role of religion in our lives, and create a space to discuss issues in our society such as the ignorance and misconceptions regarding different faiths.

Jaskiran Kaur Sandhu

Hello! My name is Jaskiran Kaur Sandhu, and I am a rising junior majoring in Biology. I am from Madison, WI, and I am a Sikh. My faith has become a prominent aspect of my life because of my parents and family. Throughout elementary, middle, and high school, I would visit the Gurudwara (the Sikh temple) every week and attend Punjabi School, where I learned about Sikh history and the Punjabi/Gurmukhi language. Growing up as a Sikh, I realized over time how little is known about my religion. This became even more clear after the Oak Creek Sikh Temple shooting in 2012. From this tragedy, I learned how one’s ignorance can lead to harm, but also why spreading awareness and creating opportunities for interreligious dialogue can be so valuable. As a CRGC fellow, I am excited to meet students and learn about their different faiths while sharing knowledge about mine, have meaningful conversations about the role of religion in our lives, and create a space to discuss issues in our society such as the ignorance and misconceptions regarding different faiths.

Amanpreet Kaur Sehra

Amanpreet Kaur Sehra is a first generation Sikh-Punjabi American who is an undergraduate junior majoring in finance and real estate with a certificate in religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Beyond the classroom, she serves on the Executive Board of SikhTeens, a religious non-profit organization aimed to encourage the youth to learn and further themselves on the Sikh journey through different forms of media in order to provide a resource for younger teenagers with the vision of creating an organization that works as a resource to all young Sikhs to promote inclusion and change in their own communities. As a Badger at UW-Madison, she has furthered her exploration of interfaith and intercultural learning this past year through her involvement with Chup Go Vote and the Interfaith America BILI fellowship. Aman truly believes in the power of civil discourse and works to combine her interest in interfaith conversations and her religious values to better advocate for underrepresented communities. Through her involvement with the Center for Interfaith Dialogue, Aman hopes to help uplift her community through connecting minority groups on campus by providing space to connect with resources on campus.

Balvir Kaur

Position title: Sikh Society of Wisconsin Madison (Madison Gurudwara)

Balvir Kaur was born and raised in Punjab, India. She moved to Madison, WI in 1991 with her family, and completed her Masters in Bacteriology from UW-Madison in 1994. Currently, she is self-employed as the hospital manager at Capital City Veterinary Clinic. She lives in the Madison area with her husband and three children, all of whom are UW-Madison alumni and current students.  She has always been involved at the Madison Sikh Temple (Madison Gurudwara), volunteering her time as a teacher for the kids’ Punjabi class. After her own children graduated high school, she continued to dedicate her time teaching the children of Madison’s Punjabi Sikh community at Madison Gurudwara. In her free time, she likes to travel, cook and spend time with her family.

Simerjot Kaur

Hi, my name is Simerjot and I am a rising junior studying biomedical engineering. I grew up in Milwaukee, Wi and was brought up in a Sikh household. I have always been fascinated by the stories of Sikhi that were recited by my family and reinforced by weekly visits to the Sikh temple. I resonate deeply with the values of Sikhism and aspire to strengthen my relationship with the religion. My curiosity into learning more about Sikhism in my life has fueled my desire to learn about other beliefs as well. This is why I am eager to be an Interfaith Fellow where I can foster a greater understanding of other faiths and ignite personal development into how religion plays a role in my life. Engaging in meaningful discussions will allow me to expand my knowledge of how people’s belief systems affect their decision-making and achieve greater cultural sensitivity. Especially in current times, it’s very crucial to be able to direct interfaith dialogue as it is a positive first step to a more peaceful coexistence of religions/non-religious affiliations in the world. I can’t wait for all the enriching experiences as an Interfaith Fellow!

Margaret Keuler

Hi! My name is Margaret Keuler and I am currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin–I am studying political science and public policy. I grew up in Kiel, Wisconsin and I was raised in the Catholic faith and attended Catholic school for most of my education. While I would no longer consider myself a part of the Catholic church, I appreciate my religious upbringing and the importance it holds in my family. This fellowship is a unique opportunity to hear more about other people’s perspectives and religious experiences. I really value that there is a space on campus that fosters these important conversations and look forward to being a part of the CRGC fellowship this upcoming year!

Jampa Khedup

Position title: Head Teacher, Tibetan Language and Culture School; Instructor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Jampa Khedup began teaching at UW-Madison in 2005. He teaches all levels of Tibetan language classes during the academic year and also teaches for the South Asia Summer Language Institute (SASLI).  In addition to language instruction, he offers a lecture class entitled Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism.

He authored Communicative Modern Tibetan, an elementary level textbook and is working now on a companion text for intermediate level. He is an active member of the North American Tibetan Language Program and is collaborating with other members in developing teaching materials based on the communicative approach for the North American Tibetan Language School.

In addition to teaching, Jampa generously shares his insights and experiences to help mentoring new language instructors in the Department of Language and Cultures of Asia. He also enjoys giving presentations and lessons on chanting and meditation, which he has done for church groups, and high school and elementary school students from all over the state of Wisconsin.

Ari Kirsch

My name is Ari and I am a sophomore majoring in Communication Arts. I grew up in South Bend, Indiana with my parents and older brother. Since arriving at UW, I’ve been very active in Hillel and I am currently an intern there for the Jewish Learning Fellowship Social Justice class. While I was very active in my Jewish community at home, I didn’t attend school with many people who shared my religion, so my constant exposure to many different religions sparked my interest in interfaith dialogue and this fellowship. I am looking forward to getting to know and learn from the other CRGC interfaith fellows!

The Rev. Mother Bobbi Kraft

Position title: Priest, Chaplain, and Young Adult Minister at St. Francis House

The Reverend Bobbi Kraft is a native of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and is a 2018 graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS). Mother Bobbi is currently the vicar of Saint Barnabas the Encourager Episcopal Church in Suamico, Wisconsin, having previously served at Holy Spirit Episcopal Church in Waco, Texas. While in Waco, Mother Bobbi (aka, Rev B, Mama Kraft) assisted the Episcopal Student Center for Baylor University having previously served as chaplain to undergraduate students at Georgetown University during her time at seminary. Mother Bobbi holds additional training in spiritual direction, marriage preparation and counseling, and active bystander training.

Prior to answering the call to ministry, Mother Bobbi worked in the financial industry where she was grants officer for two foundations and an assistant vice president for two banks, including one in Madison, Wisconsin. During the thirteen years she lived in Madison with her family previously, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Upper Iowa University. In addition to her master’s in divinity from VTS, she obtained a Master of Science in Management and Organizational Behavior degree from Silver Lake College of the Holy Family in Manitowoc.

Mother Bobbi is the proud mother of two adult daughters and is pleased to have instilled in them the value of pilgrimage during extensive travels throughout the US and Europe. On her own, she has traveled to the Mediterranean and Middle East, including Jerusalem, several times and in 2017 served as a missionary to Kurdish and Syrian refugees in Northern Iraq. In her leisure time, Mother Bobbi enjoys art museums, puzzles, geocaching, and is an avid knitter.

Allie Kutsch

My name is Allie and I am a senior studying Consumer Behavior and Marketplace Studies with certificates in Entrepreneurship and Digital Studies to make it more business/marketing focused. I am from Racine, Wisconsin (south of Milwaukee) where I attended Catholic schooling from K-12. I was raised in a Catholic household, and because of Catholic school, I attended church twice a week and took a wide variety of religion classes through the years. I was confirmed my junior year of high school and love Sunday Mass, especially when my entire family goes. Even though I attended Catholic school all my life, I did not truly start practicing my faith until my freshman year of high school, when I witnessed God’s ability to grant miracles. I only had an overview of other religions in my World Religions class, but I am excited to dive deeper into the difference in beliefs that exist among them. As a college student, I have been able to strengthen my religion independently of my family through an all-women’s non-denominational bible study, Delight, and through friends who share varying views of faith. I am excited to participate in important conversations with everyone this semester and to share my views of the Catholic faith with others.

Hannah Kwiatkowski

My name is Hannah. I am a sophomore at Edgewood College studying pre-nursing. I grew up in Madison and have worshipped at Westminster Presbyterian Church my whole life. Interfaith communication and partnership was a deeply valued part of my upbringing. I grew up with an amazingly open and accepting example set for me by my church through various service projects, sharing of buildings, and interfaith dinners with Tempel Bethel, Madinah Academy of Madison, and various groups from other Christian denominations. I hope that my experience at the CRGC will strengthen my understanding of other faiths and provide me with learning opportunities of faiths I have little experience with. In the same way, I hope that my knowledge of my own faith and the experiences I have had with interfaith partnership could benefit group discussions.

Emma Lai

Position title: Digital Coordinator

Email: erlai@wisc.edu

Emma Lai graduated from UW Madison in May 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics (Math Emphasis), Psychology, and Religious Studies. Now a Rotational Analyst at American Family Insurance, she hopes to use her technical skills to better understand and quantify the motivations and consequences of human behavior. Besides her Fellowship with the Center in 2018, her interfaith work has included 2 UpperHouse Fellowships, an internship with the Wisconsin Council of Churches, and participation in Hillel’s Necessity of Now Seminar. Outside of Interfaith, Emma enjoys playing tennis, sketching, and practicing the piano.

Emma Lai

My name is Emma and I am a second-year student at UW-Madison. I am double majoring in Economics and Psychology with a certificate in Religious Studies. Born and raised Catholic, I attended public school in Rockford, IL for 12 years. I became especially interested in my own faith and others’ after meeting my Muslim best friend in 6th grade, my journey through Existentialism starting in 8th grade, and later my senior Capstone research project on religious identity and productivity in 12th grade. Since arriving to campus, I have enjoyed my Catholic and Interfaith conversations in Badger Catholic’s Fides et Ratio and Hillel’s Necessity of Now Seminar. These interfaith conversations address the fundamental differences between individuals, drawing society closer together to create the foundation for a more flexible, globalized world. I am excited to be a part of these conversations as a CRGC fellow.

Grace Landrum

My name is Grace and I use she/her/hers pronouns. I am currently a sophomore studying Social Welfare with plans to major in Social Work. I grew up in San Antonio, Texas and Green Bay, Wisconsin and was raised by parents who grew up in Catholic and Baptist homes respectively. Throughout my childhood and adolescence I attended Baptist, Non-Denominational Christian, and Methodist churches. Since starting college at UW-Madison I have been exploring what faith means to me and how it impacts my life. With hopes to work in the field of Social Work, I know that understanding my own relation to faith and that of others is important to being a better person and professional. I am excited to participate in the CRGC fellowship program and listen and learn from others as well as contribute to discussion!

Jacob Laufgraben

Hello, my name is Jacob, and I am a senior at UW-Madison studying history and political science. I was born in Massachusetts, and I also lived for many years in New Jersey. I am Jewish, but was raised in a fairly secular household, and I consider myself agnostic. Being Jewish is still an important part of my identity though. When it comes to the study of religion, I am particularly interested in the intersection of faith and modern ideas and ideology. I look forward to learning from others about their beliefs and helping to contribute to interfaith dialogue on campus. Hopefully, the progress we make can serve as a model for pluralism on a larger scale.

Kally Leidig

Hi! My name is Kally and I am a senior studying political science, economics, and environmental studies. I grew up in suburbs near northern Minneapolis and was raised in a moderately religious family. As time went on, I became rather disenchanted with my church and started exploring alternatives. My interest in religion and belief systems has continued to grow despite me now considering myself an atheist. I am excited to learn more about new perspectives both foreign and familiar to me. It especially fascinates me how people relate or reconcile political preferences with morals and values. 

Aerin Leigh

My name is Aerin Leigh and I am a Junior studying Communication Arts and Political Science. I grew up in St. Louis Missouri where I was raised as a Reform Jew. Judaism has become an integral part of how I see myself and the rest of the world. In high school, I was a part of many dialogue regarding diversity in all aspects of identity and I look forward to continuing that work as a CRGC fellow!

Weijia Liang

Hello! I’m Weijia Liang and I’m a senior majoring in Psychology and Human Development and Family Studies. Growing up in China and attending schools in the United States, I developed my personal practice by integrating 1) Buddhist approaches such as Zen meditation and nonduality-related philosophical reasoning; 2) Asian aesthetic/spiritual approaches such as Chinese calligraphy, tea, and zither; 3) Confucianism and Daoism-related moral reflections; 4) mindfulness approaches 5) social-psychological approach of religious research. I appreciate the meaning and beauty of all religions and feel moved by the power and strength that they have offered to people, and hope to understand the beautiful beliefs of our fellows as well as explore more in-depth my own spirituality.

Savannah Lipinski

My name is Savannah, and I am a senior majoring in Geology & Geophysics and Jewish Studies and pursuing certificates in Environmental Studies and Physics. I’ve lived in many places across the world but consider Fort Collins, Colorado to be home. I am Jewish and grew up in a Jewish household and primarily Jewish community until my mom married my step-dad and we became an interfaith household. This sparked my interest in learning about other theologies and faith communities. I have remained active in the Jewish community throughout college working at a Jewish summer camp, interning at Hillel, attending a local synagogue, and serving as a representative on Hillel International’s Student Cabinet. One of my greatest passions is faith-based environmentalism, and I am active in many Jewish environmental organizations. I founded the student organization Jews for Climate Justice, and I hope that the topic of faith-based environmental justice is something I can continue working on as a CRGC Interfaith Fellow. I am so excited to spend the year getting to know and work with a cohort of diverse students as a fellow with the CRGC.

Sofia Lissuzzo

My name is Sofia, and I am a junior at UW-Madison studying Neurobiology and Religious Studies. I am from the Chicago area and although I wasn’t taken to church by my family when I was young, I started attending a Presbyterian church as a young adult. My faith is something that is ever important and evolving for me and it has always been a curiosity to me to see how others are affected by their spirituality. I am excited for my experience as a CRGC fellow to further my understanding of other faiths and how they play a role in others’ lives.

Lina Liu

Hello, my name is Lina and I am from Shawano, Wisconsin. This fall, I will be a junior studying mathematics. All my life, I have been raised in a Buddhist household however I would question how the values of Buddhism were supposed to be lived out from a young age. For about 15 years, I have been on the fence about religion and faith but during freshman year, I was brought to Christ as my values and beliefs were put to the test. I now identify as a non-denominational Christian although my family still identifies as Buddhist. For the purposed of having healthy conversations with friends and family from other faith-backgrounds, I am excited to be part of the Interfaith Fellows Program. 

Rev. Erica Liu

Position title: Pastor & Director of Campus Ministry at Pres House

Rev. Erica Liu has served Pres House since 2004. She is a second-generation Taiwanese-American who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area of California. She lives in Madison with her partner, Mark, and together they have two daughters. Erica has a B.A. in Mass Communications from UC Berkeley, a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. Some of her favorite spiritual disciplines include practicing the martial art taekwondo and Sabbath.

Maddie Loss

My name is Maddie Loss and I am a sophomore in the School of Social Work with an intent to earn a Bachelor’s in Social Work. I am from McFarland, Wisconsin, a small suburb of Madison. My religious upbringing was in the United Church of Christ (UCC), a progressive, mainline protestant denomination. In the past few years I have formed a greater connection with my faith through mission trips, wider church conferences, the Crossing, and working in Outdoor Ministry in Green Lake, WI. As someone that is called towards a career in Christian ministry I believe that you are not just called to know the creeds of your own religion. Rather you are called to be able to work with and serve people of different backgrounds and individuals that follow different creeds. The Center for Religion and Global Citizenry has the ability to help facilitate more learning here on campus and I am honored to be a part of this endeavor and help it become a prominent part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Zheng Ma

My name is Zheng Ma, a sophomore who intends to major in Economics and Philosophy. As an international student who comes from China, I have been holding Confucian and Taoist beliefs for a long time. I am currently the president of the Ancient Religion Society and became one of the CRGC fellows at the end of my freshman year. I think religions offer different ways to interpret the world, which is quite attractive for me since I am always curious about the world. My great passion towards religions motivates me to become part of this wonderful program and I believe it is the best platform at UW-Madison to deeply interact with people who hold diverse beliefs and gain a better understandings of religious philosophy and the whole world.

Aitan Maeir

My name is Aitan Maeir and I use him/he/his pronouns. I come from a northeastern suburb of Chicago called Skokie. Religiously, I come from a modern orthodox Jewish household and I, myself, also identify as modern orthodox. I am a current sophomore and I am majoring in psychology, minoring in Jewish studies and on a pre-med track. I have attended Jewish parochial schools for my whole life and due to my experience in parochial school and my religious community, I continue to be enamored by religion and the multitude of profound impacts that it has on my life and society in general. I am really grateful for the work that the CRGC does and I am so glad that I have the opportunity to be a part of this fellowship. I am really looking forward to educating myself more about other religions that I have not been exposed to prior. I contend that learning from my peers who belong to respective religions is the best way to learn about their religions. Outside of CRGC, I am greatly involved in UW’s Chabad on campus. In addition, I serve on the executive board of BAFI (Badger Alliance For Israel). I am excited to meet the other fellows and learn from them!

Rabbi Mendel Matusof

Position title: Rabbi at UW Chabad

Born and raised in Madison, Rabbi Mendel Matusof received his training in France, Canada, Israel, and New York. In 2005, he and his wife Henya moved back to Madison to direct the Chabad activities on the UW campus. Under his leadership, a new Chabad house on campus was established, serving thousands of students at UW-Madison.

Anusha Mehta

Hi my name is Anusha Mehta and I have a sophomore studying Health Promotion Health Equity, on the Pre-PA track. I was brought up in a Hindu Jain environment, and have continued to follow those religious principles and values throughout my life. The strong connection that I have built with god has led me to gain a passion for interfaith, especially to learn about different religious and cultural perspectives, as well as engaging in cooperative, informative and positive interactions to bring together our communities. I am excited about the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry fellowship to learn more about the interfaith and be able to spread that knowledge with my peers in the Madison area. I truly believe that interfaith is a key factor in uniting the people of this country, and a great first step is simply starting the conversation! 

Allyson Mills

Hello! My name is Allyson Mills and I am from Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. I am currently a senior at UW-Madison majoring in English and Music Performance with certificates in Leadership and European Studies. I was raised Catholic and currently attend Pres House on campus, where I lead an art-focused small group and sing on Music Team. Growing up, I have always been interested in how culture and religion impact how people view and conduct their lives, and I am so excited to learn more as a CRGC fellow this year. I am particularly interested in how faith intersects with other identity factors, art, music, and other creative works influenced by religion, how faith intersects with environmentalism, and how different religions impact people’s worldviews. When not at class or work, I enjoy making ceramics at Wheelhouse Studios, drawing and painting, hiking, cooking, biking, hanging out with my friends and partner, and exploring all that Madison has to offer!

Creativity and the Church — Allyson Mills

Hassnaa Mohammed

My name is Hassnaa. I am a third year PhD student at the Design Studies department focusing on sacred and religious spaces in the United States. I grew up in a Muslim religious family in Cairo, Egypt and moved to the United States in 2011. With the Muslim community being extremely diverse in the United States, I struggled to find a community that matches my values and upbringing, especially on campus. Upon graduation, I found Islamic “third places,” a new type of religious organization that provides an informal social and educational atmosphere to support young American Muslims, to be closely aligned with my beliefs. Having experienced this atmosphere, I was inspired to go back to school and further study the effect of the physical space on people’s sense of belonging and mental wellbeing in religious spaces. I’m really excited about the CRGC’s Fellowship Program as I am hoping to understand more about other faiths, help support interfaith dialogues, and see some of the successful strategies implemented in third places on campus to enrich students’ lives and help build bridges across student groups.

Ginger Morgan

Position title: Director of Candid & Community Initiatives at Pres House

Ginger joined the Pres House staff in July of 2012 as the first Director of Residential Community. As Director of Candid & Community Initiatives, Ginger leads Candid, the Pres House student wellness initiative.  She focuses on how to promote wellness in the context of community and to envision how Pres House Apartments can best serve residents through an environment of welcome, growth, and connection.  Over the course of her career, Ginger has served as a chaplain and a college administrator, focusing much of her work on mental health, spiritual care and college student development. Ginger holds a PhD in Religious Studies from Denver University & Iliff School of Theology. Ginger is a member of the Madison Friends (Quaker) Meeting.

Sophie Morris

My name is Sophie Morris and I am a sophomore majoring in Community Leadership and Non- Profit Management. I am from New Jersey and was raised in a Jewish household by two Israeli parents. Though I do not consider myself religious, I am very connected to my Israeli roots. Before coming to college, I did a gap year in Israel where I learned about the cultures of the many different groups of people who live in the Middle East. Before that, I was connected to Israel through my extended family who lives there. I took many trips there throughout my childhood and went to a Zionist summer camp as a child. I believe that different cultures and religions are not something to avoid—they should be embraced and appreciated, even if they are different than one’s own. It is so cool that people from different parts of the world live such different and unique lives! Through this fellowship, I hope to provide others with a new perspective of Israel and Judaism, while also learning about the cultures of others.

Yaseen Najeeb

My name is Yaseen Najeeb and I am a senior at the University of Wisconsin Madison, studying political science. I am from Milwaukee, Wisconsin where I was raised in a Muslim home. Religion has always been a major part of my life and I have deep ties with my mosque and the Muslim community in Milwaukee. I attended Sunday school for five years in middle school and stayed connected with my mosque and religious leaders throughout high school. Throughout high school, I served on the executive national committee for the Muslim Youth of North America, an organization that hosted camps for Muslim youth nationally many times a year. After highschool, I decided to take a gap year at DarusSalam seminary where I learned modern standard Arabic and explored my faith at a deeper level.  I pursued the CRGC Interfaith Fellows Program because I believe the other members of this group share the same passion for knowledge and understanding as I have. I am excited to participate in such a great organization.

Bailey Nandory

My name is Bailey Nandory, and I am a junior double majoring in Classical Humanities and English-Creative Writing. I hope that these majors will take me into a career as a translator, scholar, and professor of ancient literature. I was raised in almost entirely Christian rural Wisconsin, by non-religious parents who both came from religious families, so while religion has played a small role in my life through my extended family, it was never a focal point in my upbringing, which may have actually catalyzed my curiosity in it. I love learning about other cultures, particularly the customs, rituals, and traditions that people follow and the roots in how they all began. As a future historian and lover of ancient texts, it is my goal to be a responsible historian who can appreciate religious doctrines as both historical artifacts and dynamic pieces of literature that play key roles in real peoples’ lives—I believe that this year as an Interfaith Fellow will help foster the best understanding and respect towards these principles, and I am really looking forward to it. When I am not obsessing over Archaic Greek lyric poetry, the Mesopotamians, or ancient Palmyrene funerary art, I am probably tutoring English, baking, volunteering with the BASES project, writing poetry, or playing bass. 

Matthew Nangle

My name is Matthew Nangle and I am a sophomore studying Genetics, Anthropology, and Arabic with hopes of attending graduate school to pursue Biological Anthropology. I was raised in Wisconsin and grew up in a Lutheran household with parents from Lutheran and Catholic backgrounds. Growing up, faith wasn’t a major part of my life but in recent years I’ve dedicated time to deciding for myself what faith means to me. Because of this I’ve developed a passion for theology and I readily adopt ideas from a range of Judeo-Christian thinkers. I greatly enjoy learning about the evolution of belief systems and along with my passion for complex systems of belief and their histories, I look forward to learning more about how faith impacts individuals. Through the CRGC fellowship program I hope to learn more from others about what influence their faith has had on their values and daily lives, while continuing to encourage interfaith curiosity.

Katherine O'Brien

Position title: Communications Coordinator

Katherine O’Brien is a recent University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and former Interfaith Fellow for the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry. She now lives in Chicago, IL, where she works as a Program Assistant at the nation’s largest non-profit encouraging interfaith cooperation in higher education, the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Having managed CRGC’s social media presence during her fellowship in 2019-20, she is excited to continue working with the Center as a part-time Communications Coordinator. She enjoys media work as it allows her to learn more about how to uplift as well as speak to a multitude of voices. Reach out to Katherine about what you’d like to see CRGC share on our social media pages!

Katherine O'Brien

I am a senior majoring in International Studies with a certificate in Religious Studies. In 2015, after taking a gap year in which I travelled, worked, and explored my own interests, I started school at UW-Madison, living in Witte’s Multicultural Learning Community. Being on that floor with intelligent, self-aware, and informed people from across the world set a precedent for my college career. Since then I have focused on learning about international political movements and have become familiar with the histories of many marginalized groups. As I learned more and more about the injustices minority groups face, I sought outlet in which I could advocate for myself and others. Throughout the past three years I have been involved in the community as a PEOPLE tutor, with the university as a Conversational English Coordinator at the Greater University Tutoring Service, and with my campus community as a BRIDGE team leader. I hope that working with the CRGC will help me cement my leadership skills and grow in my ability to do compassionate activism. I was raised in Mequon, WI in a Catholic home by my mother and father and have two younger siblings. Since high school, I have studied Buddhism in personal and academic contexts, and have come to feel connection with the religion. I consider myself Buddhist Catholic. It is important to me to use those labels to pay respect to the traditions that inform my worldview.

Jinwan Park

Hi everyone, my name is Jinwan Park, and I am a Junior at UW-Madison studying political science. My hometown is Busan, Korea, a place famous for beautiful temples in the mountains. Although I was raised by a Buddhist mother and a Catholic father, I did not stick to a certain religious belief but always tried to explore the diversity of religion. My parents respected my choice not to have faith and taught me the importance of respect and openness in discussing one’s beliefs. That laid my foundation as a human being to respect others’ religions and remain open to the diversity of thoughts. I hope to learn more about the world of religion while sharing my modest view as a non-religious student through the course of my fellowship.

Hope Peterson

My name is Hope Peterson and I am a junior at UW Madison. I am double majoring in Environmental Studies and Psychology with a certificate in Southeast Asian Studies. I am from St. Croix Falls, a very small town in northwestern Wisconsin. Although I was raised with a Lutheran-Christian faith background, it was not until my second year of college that I began to take interest in various spiritual practices. Since then I have spent time studying Buddhism, different aspects of Christianity and many other spiritual topics/practices. As a Center for Religion and Global Citizenry Undergraduate Scholar, I am excited to expand the conversation of interfaith on campus, connecting others to its intense importance and relevance to themselves and this time.

James Pillay

Hello! My name is James Pillay and I am a junior studying business and philosophy. From about the age of 10, I had wanted to become Catholic and finally got my wish when I arrived at the University. Most cultures throughout history have sought the transcendentals: goodness, beauty, and truth. Over the past two years, I have come to believe that the fullness of these ends is to be found in the Catholic Faith. Though religious expression varies significantly around the globe, the most important questions of life do not: questions of origin, identity, meaning, morality, and destiny. It’s hard to imagine anything more significant and relevant to our human experience, and the answers to such questions are derived from one’s worldview. As a Catholic, I believe that God exists and has decisively revealed himself to mankind in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, along the way providing extremely compelling answers to those deep questions. Even still, religious diversity is the story of our world, rendering dialogue essential to a functioning democracy. It is my hope to contribute to an environment of respect, appreciation, and connectedness as we navigate the mysteries of life, though with divergent beliefs, as one race.

Asifa Quraishi-Landes

Position title: Professor of Law at UW-Madison

Asifa Quraishi-Landes is a Professor of Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison She specializes in comparative Islamic and U.S. constitutional law, with a current focus on modern Islamic constitutional theory. She is a 2009 Carnegie Scholar and 2012 Guggenheim Fellow. Recent publications include “Legislating Morality and Other Illusions about Islamic Government,” and “Healing a Wounded Islamic Constitutionalism: Sharia, Legal Pluralism, and Unlearning the Nation-State Paradigm. Currently, she is working on a book manuscript tentatively titled “Three Pillars Constitutionalism” in which she proposes a new model of Islamic constitutionalism for today’s Muslim-majority countries.

Professor Quraishi-Landes holds a doctorate from Harvard Law School and other degrees from Columbia Law School, the University of California-Davis, and the University of California-Berkeley, and has worked as law clerk in the United State Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She has served as a Public Delegate on the United States Delegation to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, the Task Force on Religion and the Making of U.S. Foreign Policy for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and as advisor to the Pew Task Force on Religion & Public Life. In the recent past she has served as the President of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML), Co-Executive Director of Muslim Advocates, Executive Director of the Muslim Public Service Network, Chair of the Board of Trustees for Bayan Islamic Graduate School, and President and Board Member of Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.

Ali Qureshi

Hello, my name is Ali, and I am a sophomore majoring in Neurobiology. I grew up in a city called Fort Wayne in northeast Indiana and was exposed to many different cultures and ethnicities at a young age from both my school and my city’s mosque. With my own background being a Muslim American, and many of my friends stemming from different religious and social backgrounds, I believe that both acceptance and dialogue in embracing each other’s differences is important to educate and unify us as fellow Badgers.

Maya Reinfeldt

My name is Maya Reinfeldt. I’m a junior at UW Madison studying Russian Literature and International Studies. This is quite fitting, since I am a Madison native, but grew up in a strongly bicultural family. I’ve spoken Russian fluently since I was a child, and was raised Russian Orthodox. As I grew older, reading about and participating in this faith helped me feel a deeper, more profound connection to Russia without having lived there. This led me to believe that religion and faith are inextricably human qualities, and have the power to connect people from all across the globe in the pursuit of a common good. I believe faith can be explored and shared through literature, travel, and interpersonal interactions. It’s my goal as an Interfaith Fellow to learn as much as I can about other faiths and the emotions and beliefs they elicit, as well as encourage my fellow students to engage in positive, productive cross-faith discussions. I will always believe in the power of faith to heal and to unite, and I hope to help bring this joy to our campus.

Laura Rodriguez-Alvarez

Hey Badgers! My name is Laura Rodriguez-Alvarez and I am a fifth year studying Biological Systems Engineering. I was born in Colombia and like many Latinx communities, raised in a Catholic home. My exposure to other religions only occurred after I moved to Madison, Wisconsin permanently 12 years ago. My step-dad is a non-denominational Christian and since moving here, my mother and I have also been non-denominational Christians. I stopped going to church a long time ago but since coming to college, I have engaged with peers from a variety of religious backgrounds thanks to BRIDGE, an organization aimed at helping international students connect with the community on campus. My exposure to the variety of religious backgrounds on campus has sparked my interest in learning more about the different belief systems. I look forward to improving my ability to understand global religious belief systems through the CRGC Fellowship in order to be able to create more inclusive spaces in the future. 

Samuel Ropa

I am senior studying geography and cultural anthropology. I was raised in the Madison area by an Episcopalian mother and a Buddhist father, so my involvement in inter-religious dialogue is quite personal. During my first year at UW I lived in the International Learning Community (ILC), a community of international students, students of international studies and world language learners; here, I experienced firsthand how a diversity of perspectives can shape a strong community. After living in Varanasi, India in Fall 2017, where religious practice is a visible part of public life, I sought out the CRGC as a place to share my experience and explore religious visibility in my community. I was drawn to the Fellowship because it offers a space to have conversations like the ones that take place in my home and because, in the interfaith tradition, it considers pluralism and activism necessary to create cultural change. I look forward to thinking about religious identity and citizenship on campus with other CRGC Fellows this semester.

Noa Rose

My name is Noa and I am senior majoring in Neurobiology with a certificate in Jewish Studies. It is my hope to attend medical school following graduation. I am from St. Louis, MO and grew up in a conservative Jewish community. I attended a private Jewish day school through the 8th grade and continued to pursue my Jewish education through my synagogue’s religious school and youth group. My faith remains a strong component of my identity and I strive to stay connected to my Judaism through involvement both on and off campus. I am honored to be a CRCG fellow and I am eager to play a role in strengthening interfaith cooperation across campus.

Ulrich Rosenhagen

Position title: Director

Email: rosenhagen@wisc.edu

Ulrich Rosenhagen received his Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg in 2012 and is author of Brudermord, Freiheitsdrang, Weltenrichter: Religiöse Kommunikation und öffentliche Theologie in der amerikanischen Revolutionsepoche (Fratricide, Desire for Freedom, Judge of the World: Religious Communication and Public Theology during the American Revolution), Berlin: Walter de Gruyter (2015). He edited Nostra Aetate and the Future of Interreligious Dialogue with Charles L. Cohen and Paul F. Knitter, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books (2017) and The Holy in a Pluralistic World: Rudolf Otto’s Legacy in the Twenty-First Century with Gregory Alles, Bristol: Equinox (2022). He was a researcher at the Technical University of Dresden, has held a research fellowship at Boston University, and has written in academic and non-academic journals on Jewish-Christian relations, Social Protestantism, and interreligious dialogue. His main research interests are interreligious literacy, religion and immigration, and the work of Rudolf Otto. He taught as a lecturer at the UW-Madison’s Religious Studies Program and the Department of History. He is also an ordained Lutheran pastor and worked for several years in the ministry in Germany and Miami, FL.

Ibrahim Saeed

Position title: President of the Islamic Center of Madison

Ibrahim Saeed is the President of the Islamic Center of Madison, located on 21 N Orchard Street near Camp Randall stadium. Dr. Saeed worked as a researcher in UW-Madison’s department of Plant Pathology before retiring in 2019. 

Gwen Salm

I’m a junior majoring in biology and I hope to attend pharmacy or medical school after receiving my undergraduate degree. I grew up in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin and was raised Catholic. I now consider myself a humanist atheist and work as the Vice President for UW-Madison’s Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics. In a time when people are so divided, I believe that interfaith work is more important than ever. I am honored to be a part of the Center for Religion and Global Citizenry and look forward to working with a group of people with the same intentions of creating open-minded dialogue and spreading awareness.

Simran Kaur Sandhu

My name is Simran, and I am a junior majoring in Biology at UW and I’m pursuing certificates in Environmental Studies and Global Health. I was born and raised in Madison, WI. I’m a proud Baby Badger. My parents immigrated from Punjab, India to join my aunt and uncle who were here in the United States in the early 90s, along with my mom’s parents and the rest of her siblings. I grew up in a Sikh household and was surrounded by my big extended family. Instead of two siblings and two parents, it was like growing up with seventeen siblings and twelve parents. I like to bike and run, paint, read, and eat lots of food (I’m a big foodie). Being a Sikh has always been an integral part of who I am and has been the guide for who I’d like to become. The word ‘Sikh’ means ‘student’ and this philosophy is the essence of my desire to understand what life is about. Becoming a CRGC Fellow was something I chose to pursue because it brings together individuals with diverse beliefs and creates a space for interfaith dialogue, which makes for a unique and enriching learning environment. I’m excited and grateful to share life stories with my fellow students and hope that we connect in deep and inspiring ways.

Jeremy Sanford

My name is Jeremy Sanford and I am a sophomore double majoring in environmental studies and conservation biology. I’m from a town called Stafford, Virginia and was raised in a pretty Christian household. The CRGC program is interesting to me because there has been a rise in divisive rhetoric over the past decade or so, and a decent chunk of said rhetoric is in reference to religion. There are many places around campus where our differences are embraced, but I noticed few of them focused on religious difference (most likely due to the liberal/secular nature of universities). I think being part of this could be an amazing opportunity to spread awareness about the importance of interfaith communication and cooperation and to fight the rise of ignorance induced hatred of religious minorities.

Emma Sayner

My name is Emma Sayner, and I’m a senior from Northfield, MN. I am pursuing a double major in History and Political Science; my senior thesis examines the relationship between state politics and Holocaust memorialization in Communist Poland. My passion for pursuing social justice and human rights stems from my experiences growing up in an interfaith family. I am excited to learn from my fellow CRGC scholars and help strengthen interfaith cooperation across campus.

Jaden Schultz

Hey, friends! My name is Jaden Schultz and I’m a sophomore studying Health Promotion and Health Equity and English. I was raised in Pewaukee, Wisconsin in a Lutheran household by parents of both Catholic and Lutheran upbringings. My mom was raised Catholic, and I’ve grown up hearing about her personal opinions, experiences, and perceived shortcomings and disappointments of the Catholic church. Oppositely, my father grew up in a Lutheran home and shared his own, more positive experiences with religion and religious upbringing. This opposition in religious encounters has stimulated my interest in analyzing how our individual experiences with religious groups leave lasting impacts on our lives, and how they form the way we view both our own and other religions. More specifically, I’m interested in dissecting how and why religious stereotypes exist, and what we can do to debunk these misconceptions. I look forward to learning more about how faith appears in individuals’ everyday lives, and I hope to join in on informative discourse on religious groups and systems that are unfamiliar to myself.

Jaden Schultz

Hey, friends! My name is Jaden Schultz and I’m a junior studying Health Promotion and Health Equity and English, with certificates in History and Religious Studies. I was raised in Pewaukee, Wisconsin in a Lutheran household by parents of both Catholic and Lutheran upbringings. My mom was raised Catholic, and I’ve grown up hearing about her personal opinions, experiences, and perceived shortcomings of the Catholic church. Oppositely, my father grew up in a Lutheran home and shared his own, more positive experiences with religion and religious upbringing. This opposition in religious encounters has stimulated my interest in analyzing how our individual experiences with religious groups leave lasting impacts on our lives, and how they form the way we view both our own and other religions. More specifically, I’m interested in dissecting how and why religious stereotypes exist, and what we can do to debunk these misconceptions. I look forward to learning more about how faith appears in individuals’ everyday lives, and I hope to join in on informative discourse surrounding religious groups and systems that are unfamiliar to myself.

Yaakov Segal

Hello! My name is Yaakov Segal. I have lived in Israel, California, and mostly Minnesota. I’m here at Madison studying Political Science and Jewish studies. I am Jewish and was raised in a Jewish family. I feel that Judaism is a large part of who I am as a person and want to share what that means for me with others. I want to be able to teach about my traditions and learn from others about theirs. I’m super excited to be part of a program that allows me to do that.

Ben Sevart

My name is Ben and I am a junior studying Mathematics and Religious Studies. I am from Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin. I grew up in an atheist household, so religion was not a part of my life as a child, yet I have found a secular appreciation for it through my studies here at UW-Madison and by working at a local synagogue. My academic interests lie primarily in the religious traditions of India. As a fellow with the CRGC, I hope to explore the ways that religious communities and leaders in Madison and beyond have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led many state and local governments to force the cancellation of in-person religious services. Through this issue, I want to explore deeper questions about religious freedom and the role of the state. I look forward to meeting the other Fellows, learning about their faiths, and contributing to the interfaith dialogue that is so important in a pluralistic society.

Melissa Shackelford

Position title: Director of Program Curation and Community Impact at Upper House

Melissa delights in the innovation and collaboration required to design and implement programs that inspire spiritual transformation. Committed to activating the gifts of those around her, she thrives on mobilizing teams, pioneering new ideas, and transforming creative energy into practical next steps.

Prior to joining Upper House as its third staff member in 2015, Melissa managed her brother’s art business, Inspiring Art by Alex, and together with her family, founded the nonprofit Alex Haunty’s Theater & Arts Fund, Inc., to create access to the arts for people with disabilities. Melissa holds a B.A. in Communication Arts and Literature Education (5-12) from Bethel University and is a third-year graduate of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry in Redding, CA. She also is a 2018 Alumna of Leadership Greater Madison and currently serves on the boards of Inspiring Hope Ministries and Alex Haunty’s Theater & Arts Fund, Inc.

Born and raised in Madison, WI, Melissa loves living in a four-season state close to family, supporting local coffee shops through her love of lattes, and being newly married. She and her husband, Peter G. Shackelford (U.S. Navy Veteran and the handsome man who makes her coffee every morning), can be found (in a non-pandemic world) playing beach volleyball in the summer, attending Overture concerts and APT performances, and eating at local restaurants.

Mishal Shah

Salam, Shalom, Namaste, Hello! My name is Mishal and I was born and brought up in Lahore, Pakistan. Growing up in Pakistan, which is predominantly (97%) Muslim, I was always surrounded by people who were very much like me. Coming to UW I experienced a drastic shift from being part of the majority to now suddenly being a marginalized group on campus. This change along with the increase in Islamophobia across the US inspired me to work to educate those who had perhaps never met a Muslim in their life to see us from a different perspective; one which is at least different than what the media portrays us to be.

My first interfaith experience was in grade 10 where despite the lack of diversity, an interfaith conference brought together Pakistani Muslims, Christians and Sikhs from all around the country to highlight our similarities while respecting our differences. I walked out of that two-day conference hopeful that I will be able to continue such conversations. Over these past 2 years that I have been at UW, my interest in interfaith cooperation has only grown. I am fortunate that I have met and formed relationships with students and faculty who are willing to learn from one another and work actively for a more inclusive society on campus. Last year CRGC was able to work towards such an inclusive society by getting the dining halls to provide Kosher and Halal food options for those who observe such dietary preferences. I’m hopeful that the platform CRGC has provided us with this year will aid to further advance the #RealUW and prove to everyone irrespective of their difference in belief, race or any identity that they too are welcome and belong here.

Tahseen Shaik

Hello! My name is Tahseen Shaik and I am a senior studying Neurobiology at UW-Madison. I was born in Andhra Pradesh, India and grew up in Wisconsin. I grew up in a Muslim household but was surrounded my various faiths both here and in India. I learned about my religion by studying and applying it every day growing up; it was very important to my upbringing, molding my morals and identity. And I learned about other religions and cultures from family friends, neighbors, and the community — which taught me to appreciate the similarities and differences among religions. As a CRGC fellow, I hope to explore more conversations, learn from my peers, and share my experiences. I am excited to be a part of a program that encourages knowledge and understanding of others.

Ufaira Shaik

My name is Ufaira and I am currently majoring in biology. I went to a private religious school in Milwaukee that taught Arabic and Islamic Studies alongside the requisite courses like chemistry, calculus, and literature. Growing up in a Muslim household, I became more attuned to how my religion was portrayed. I quickly realized that the best way to combat the misinformation and misrepresentation of my faith was to have an open discussion with people of other beliefs. This led to my interest in interfaith dialogue. As I participated in various interfaith events, I realized how much we could get done if different religious groups worked together to affect a change on policy. Given the increased tensions between various religious groups, I believe the CRGC provides us with an important opportunity to collaborate while gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation towards those of a different faith.

Niha Shamsi

My name is Niha, and I am a junior majoring in Nursing and getting a certificate in Global Health. I’m from a northwest Chicago suburb, and I come from a family of five. Some of my favorite hobbies include photography, creating art (whether it be paintings, drawings, or DIYs), and cooking. Growing up, even though I was raised as a Muslim, I had early exposure to different faiths with my mom’s whole family being Hindu and most of my childhood friends being Christian. Due to this, I have always been fascinated to learn about other religions and cultures, and I believe that this program provides an excellent opportunity for this. Learning about different faiths and having interfaith dialogue is essential in creating a more open and inclusive campus climate, and I am excited to be a part of a program that is dedicated to achieving this. As an Interfaith Fellow, I also look forward to advocating for social justice and providing a voice for marginalized groups at UW. 

Hannah Silver

My name is Hannah and I am a current sophomore studying Human Development and Family Studies with aspirations of someday becoming an elementary school teacher. I grew up in Chicago and attended a reform Jewish day school for the first 14 years of my life. I quickly became exposed to interfaith discussions and conversations when I enrolled in the largest, most diverse high school in the city. It was there that I witnessed the importance of diversity and saw firsthand how it can strengthen a community. Since arriving on campus, I have stayed involved with my Jewish community through internships and programs at Hillel but was looking for a place to continue interreligious dialogue as well. I am lucky to have stumbled upon the CRGC Interfaith Fellows Program and am honored to be a part of it. I look forward to expanding my religious knowledge and identity while meeting new people from diverse backgrounds. I cannot wait to see what is in store for us next!

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger

Position title: Senior Rabbi at UW Hillel Foundation

Rabbi Andrea Steinberger has been serving as a rabbi at the Hillel Foundation at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1999. In an ever-changing world, her deep spirituality, thoughtfulness, and compassion have created a welcoming sense of community and home for Jewish students on campus. She is a teacher, a learner, a questioner, and a spiritual seeker. At UW Hillel, Rabbi Steinberger provides opportunities for students to explore spiritual practices, experience Jewish learning, ask difficult questions, and come together for Shabbat and holidays. She helps students create and expand their Jewish lives and practices during their college years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Rabbi Andrea received her ordination from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1997 and her BA from Northwestern. In March 2022, she received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from HUC-JIR for serving 25 years as a rabbi in the Reform Movement.

Father Eric Sternberg

Position title: Pastor at Saint Paul Catholic Student Center

Fr. Eric Sternberg has been the Pastor of Saint Paul Catholic Student Center since July 2023 and was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Madison in 2005. He graduated from UW-Stevens Point with a degree in Biology in 2000 and from Mundelein Seminary with a degree in Sacred Theology in 2005.  Fr. Eric previously served at Saint Paul’s from 2007 – 2013 and is honored to return to serve this great ministry. He is likewise honored to be a part of the life of UW-Madison through the Center for Interfaith Dialogue and to contribute to conversations about faith and life in a respectful and charitable community. 

Abby Stoa

Hello! My name is Abby Stoa, and I am a Sophomore studying Education. While I was born in China, I was adopted in 2004 and grew up in Minnesota for most of my life. I am very excited to be a part of this fellowship and learn more about faiths and religions that differ from my own. As a Christian I often feel like we get a negative reputation due to the voices that follow a strict convervative and rigid set of “rules” based on the readings in the Bible. As someone who is a Person of Color and a member of the LGBT+ community, I want to share my story and perspective with others while hearing the origin and teachings of other religions and spiritualities.

Milan Stolpman

My name is Milan Stolpman and I am a junior majoring in Microbiology with certificates in Global Health and Sustainability. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and attended a diverse high school, where I interacted with peers from a wide array of backgrounds. My relationship with religion has been a dynamic one, as my dad was raised Christian in a standard Midwestern suburb and my mom was raised Hindu in Bangalore, India. While I am Catholic, because of my household, my world has always been a combination of unique aspects of two cultures and religions, and interfaith/cultural dialogue has always been a central facet of my life. As I have grown in college, I have come to realize the importance of religion in the world—how it brings people together, pushes people apart, and continues to shape the global landscape. In this process, I have developed a newfound passion for exploring my own relationship with religion and discussing faith with my peers. I was thrilled to discover a forum dedicated to religious/inter-faith dialogue through the CRGC, and I am looking forward to being a fellow this year!

Jake Streek

My name is Jake Streeck, and I am a sophomore majoring in Spanish & probably International Studies. I am from Bayside, Wisconsin, where I was raised by a reformed Jewish mother and catholic father. Although I was born Jewish and had a Bar Mitzvah at 13, I have since been drawn toward secular humanism. My lack of religious identity is what makes religion so interesting to me, for although I do not subscribe to any one belief system, it is the belief systems of others that have crafted and will continue to craft so many aspects of global society. This is why I find it important to develop an understanding of other perspectives, and hence why I chose to apply for the CRGC program.

Daniel Sumida

Hi! My name is Daniel, and I am currently a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in Biology on a Pre-Physician Assistant track while also pursuing a certificate in Business Studies. I was born in the Chicago-land suburbs in a town called Downers Grove and grew up in a non-denominational Christian household. My parents were able to instill positive moral values and lessons through my faith that I continue to hold with importance to this day. Despite my upbringing and connection to my Christian faith, I have wanted to be exposed to other religions and also attempt to learn and understand them. Going into the healthcare field, religion and one’s faith plays an essential, yet underrated role in overall patient treatment. I sincerely believe that the Interfaith Fellowship with the Center for Interfaith Dialogue will give me the opportunity to meet and learn from some incredibly diverse people. Because religion is often the backbone of one’s identity, this experience will shape my health-oriented professional life after school in ways I didn’t know were possible.

Pengying Sun

My name is Pengying Sun. I am a sophomore double-majoring in Neurobiology and Nutritional Science on a pre-med track, while pursuing certificates in Biocore and Southeast Asian Studies. I was born and raised in a Mahayana Buddhism family. Years ago, I got the opportunity to learn about Theravada Buddhism and have become more and more fascinated by it. My daily meditation practice allows me to train my mind not to be disturbed by the impermanent surroundings but to be self-conscious of my sense bases and to maintain the clarity of insight. My meditation retreat experience at various monasteries in China and Thailand have fueled my passion to delve deeper into Buddhism. Meditation is also a subject I am passionate about in academia. I am particularly interested in how different types of meditation can be harnessed as tools to enhance human brain function and promote mental well-being. Being a Buddhist has inspired me in every aspect of my life. I am thrilled to be a CRGC fellow, to learn more about other faith systems, and hopefully offer useful insights as a Buddhist and meditation practitioner.

Vikram Suresh

My name is Vikram Suresh and I am a sophomore at UW-Madison. I am currently studying Biology with the intent of becoming a Physician Assistant. I come from Naperville, IL a suburb close to Chicago. I’m am honored to be a CRCG scholar, and I am very interested in interfaith-dialogue because in today’s political climate, I feel it is critical to understand and respect the religions and cultures of others. This opportunity excites me because I will get the chance to understand other religions from a personal perspective of other scholars, as well as get to share my experiences as a practicing Hindu. I look forward to gain a vast amount of knowledge about different religions from my peers, and am excited to see what the year holds!

Jackson Thiel

My name is Jackson and I’m a junior majoring in Political Science and Economics. I grew up in Oshkosh Wisconsin in a Catholic home, although I wouldn’t say religion has made a tremendous impact on how I live my life. I’m interested in the CRGC fellowship because I have seen the impact religion has made on other people’s lives and I want to better understand how religion affects people. I’ve seen religion’s ability to connect people to all over the world and I think there’s a lot to learn about how to connect people from different backgrounds. I hope to use my position to create a positive atmosphere on campus where people feel free to openly discuss topics of religion. It is my firm belief that everyone who is engaged in productive dialogue can grow from it and that’s what I want to bring to the CRGC. I look forward to helping different students and myself grow with our connection to religion.

Michelle Thomas

My name is Michelle and I major in International Studies with a certificate in Developmental Economics. Growing up as an Indian Orthodox Christian in Dubai, UAE, I had the opportunity to communicate and mingle with people from different faith backgrounds. From a young age, I was always interested in understanding my own faith and the philosophies of other religions. Attending Sunday School and Bible Studies throughout my childhood years gave me a strong background about my own faith. Being exposed to family and friends from different faith backgrounds such as Christianity, Hinduism and Islam enabled me to gain a keen interest in interfaith dialogues. I am currently involved with the student leadership team of the Navigators Campus Ministry on campus. Through the CRGC I hope to learn about different faiths that I have not been exposed to and the skills required for interfaith discussion facilitation and better cooperation. I am excited to learn about different faiths and finding the similarities despite some obvious differences. I believe that by facilitating interfaith dialogue and understanding, the community can grow and coexist harmoniously, paving the way for social change.

Kasturi Thorat

Namaste! My name is Kasturi, and I was born and brought up in Nashik, India. I am a senior studying Global Health. I grew up in a Hindu household and I identify as a Hindu. Growing up in India, I have had the chance to coexist with people of different faiths and this experience has made me who I am today. My interest in interfaith dialogue arises from feeling left out after I moved to the US for college. Back home I did not realize how easy it was to stay connected to your belief system. After moving to the US, I felt the need to connect with people who wouldn’t shy away from or avoid conversations about faith. Being a fellow with CRGC is a great opportunity to have insightful conversations and learn more about different faiths. My goal is to utilize this chance to educate people more about my culture, religion, and faith. I strongly believe that we are all spiritual beings, and our faith is how we connect with our spiritual self. We might be walking different paths, but our destination is the same.

Zayna Tubeishat

Why am I interested in interreligious dialogue? Whether it was through attending an Islamic school in the U.S or critical contemplation that led me to a new philosophical outlook, religion has played an important role throughout my life. This experience provided me with an insightful perspective on the interplay of religion, culture, and assimilation. It was also an attest to the dangers of indoctrination and historical erasure of religious diversity. Now, I’m passionate about learning about different indigenous beliefs and the deeper roots behind traditional Abrahamic faiths.

Moreover, as an International Studies major, I know that my career path requires a certain level of intercultural understanding and background. Religion is an essential component of any country’s history and being able to understand the way individual faiths have shaped nations is crucial to fostering meaningful relationships between them. I hope to learn more about this divine aspect of politics through my fellowship.

Karen Turino

Position title: Administrator

Email: turino@wisc.edu

Noelle Van Straten

My name is Noelle Van Straten and I am from Appleton, WI. I am a sophomore at UW-Madison studying political science and public policy. I was raised in a catholic family. I attended church on Sunday and religious classes on Wednesday nights and went through the sacraments. All along I never felt connected to the religion I was raised with and I resisted following the church every step of the way. When I reached high school, my mother gave me the option to be religious in whatever capacity I wanted and prompted me to explore other religions. I took her up on this offer, but I have yet to find any religion that I identify with or would like to practice. I currently consider myself an atheist, but I struggle with this because I think society associates negativity with atheists. Therefore, I am excited to take part in interfaith dialogue and discuss what others’ experiences with religion are like. I want to grow confident in my religious identity as well as better understand other religions.

Jeff Vandenberg

Position title: Campus Director at The Navigators

Storay Wardak

Hi, my name is Storay! I transferred this semester to UW Madison as a junior, and I’m pursuing a double major in religious studies and philosophy. I was born in Peshawar Pakistan, but my family and I are Afghan; we came to the US as refugees when I was young, and I’ve grown up here since. My family and I are practicing Muslims, so faith is a large part of my life. I’ve had my share of experiences growing up as a minority and those experiences have always pushed me to learn more about my own and other people’s faiths, cultures, and religions. Progress of any kind starts with clean intentions and a good conversation. I hope to have many of those this year in pursuit of a better understanding of other fellows and their traditions, and I’m looking forward to learning how we can all grow in empathy for one another as people in this community, as well as globally.

Danielle Wendricks

My name is Danielle, but most people call me Dani, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. I am a senior double majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership and History with a certificate in Education Policy Studies. I was born and raised in Madison, and grew up attending an ELCA Lutheran church. Right now, I’d consider myself spiritual, and really enjoy attending Unitarian Universalist services. In January of 2019, I attended a Leadership Delegation to Israel and Palestine through UW-Madison’s Hillel. This trip was truly life changing, altering my perception on religion, and fostering a passion for exploring other religions. I visited and learned about different religious people and places. I was a fellow in the Fall of 2019, but was gone Spring of 2020 as I studied abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark on a Brittingham Viking scholarship. I am excited to be back with a new cohort of folks, and continue to study how religion influences, builds, and hinders community development. I also look forward to understanding and learning about the relationship between religion and public service, charity, and volunteerism, and how that might mirror and differ from the white savior complex. 

Danielle Wendricks

My name is Danielle, but most people call me Dani, and I use she/her/hers pronouns. I am a junior double majoring in Community and Nonprofit Leadership and History with a certificate in Education Policy Studies. I was born and raised in Madison, and grew up attending an ELCA Lutheran church. Right now, I’d consider myself spiritual, and really enjoy attending Unitarian Universalist services. In January of 2019, I attended a Leadership Delegation to Israel and Palestine through UW-Madison’s Hillel. This trip was truly life changing, altering my perception on religion, and fostering a passion for exploring other religions. This trip was my first introduction to interfaith concepts, as I visited and learned about different religious people and places. Through my work with CRGC, I plan to study how religion influences, builds, and hinders community development. I also look forward to understanding and learning about the relationship between religion and public service, charity, and volunteerism, and how that might mirror and differ from the white savior complex. When I’m not in school, you can find me admiring sunflowers, advising students on civic engagement opportunities at the Morgridge Center for Public Service, participating in events and services at the Crossing, or reading a book curled up in my hammock.

Jaime Wendt

Hello! My name is Jaime Wendt. I was raised and confirmed Catholic according to my family’s wishes, and I have returned to exploring and practicing the faith after lapsing. I’m a senior at UW-Madison studying Religious Studies and Criminal Justice. I previously attended the University of Minnesota right after graduating high school and had to leave without completing my degree. After a long break and a decade of working in finance, I decided I wanted to change careers and enrolled in the Badger Ready program at UW to finish my degree in a completely different field! As I started my time back at school, it became clear to me that being successful in school would mean engaging in self-forgiveness for mistakes I had previously made in my  academic career.  It then occurred to me that most people will need to access forgiveness throughout their lives, including people who have been or who are currently incarcerated. I look forward to researching what forgiveness means to different people, religions, and cultural traditions in my final year of school. I’m also looking forward to implementing a philosophy of forgiveness in my work after graduation!

Ben Wetherby

My name is Ben and I am a sophomore majoring in Finance. I grew up in Mahtomedi, Minnesota, a small town outside of the Twin Cities. I was raised as a Lutheran and volunteered at my church summer camp several times as a counselor and had the opportunity to discuss faith with my campers. During my freshman year at UW-Madison my understanding of Christianity grew significantly through my involvement with a Christian group on campus. However, I also realized how little I knew about other religious groups. I am eager to learn more about different religions and to improve my ability to participate in interreligious dialogue. Expanding religious knowledge removes communication barriers that may have previously existed, and I hope to connect with a diverse religious community this year. 

Caitlin Wienkes

Fall 2021 will begin my sixth year studying engineering at UW-Madison. Out of the 130 or so credits I have taken during my undergraduate career, my favorite courses have been those studying cultures and religions. Instead of extending my graduation date any further by taking classes that do not count for my major, I decided to pursue this interest by applying for the Interfaith Fellowship. I grew up in rural, southwest Wisconsin in a largely Catholic community. As I have grown into my own person, I no longer identify with any religion; however, I am excited to participate in interreligious dialogue. I do not know that I have much information to offer, but I will ask so many questions to learn more about the world for my own benefit, to make others question or confirm their beliefs, and to take the information I gain and share it with my peers.

Jiaming Xie

Hi! My name is Jiaming, and I use she/her pronouns. I am from Beijing, China, and I am a senior majoring in Sociology, Legal Studies, and Theatre. Although I do not identify myself as having any religious affiliations, I have always been fascinated about it and would like to learn more about religious ideas. While having the honor to communicate with people from different backgrounds, I want to strengthen my understanding of religion and better connect it with society and the legal system to promote an environment with liberty and protected rights. I am excited to be part of the program 🙂

Amy Yadev

Hi, my name is Amanjot (Amy), and I am a rising junior studying biology. I am from Wisconsin, and my family and I currently practice Sikhism. Growing up, I learned a lot about my faith from my parents and by visiting the Sikh Temple at least once per week. My religion has influenced many decisions I have made; however, I started to question the role of religion in my life as I became older. For example, in 2012, following a mass shooting at the Sikh Temple of WI in Oak Creek, I wondered how an act of violence and hate could happen inside a house of worship. By being a part of the CRGC as an interfaith fellow, I hope to spearhead dialogue about how we can respect all religions and achieve the peace and mutual understanding we all strive for. Additionally, engaging with others about their lived experiences with or without religion is critical for me to expand my religious knowledge and connection. This fellowship will also provide me with a method to address social justice issues by engaging with a topic that helps people cross barriers and come together. Outside of school, I love to dance (I am a part of a competitive Bhangra dance team!), read, cook and explore new places such as parks and cities! I am excited to be a CRGC interfaith fellow this year and experience all that being a fellow has to offer.