Religious Life at Hendrix College is restructuring to include greater support for interfaith programming.

Robert Williamson, associate professor of Religious Studies, has been named as the first director of the Interfaith Initiative at Hendrix.

"With the Interfaith Initiative, we seek to bring people together in ways that encourage relationships to develop organically," Rev. J.J. Whitney, Director of the Office of Religious Life, said. "I’m confident that with Dr. Williamson’s leadership, we will see even more growth in understanding among people of different faiths."

Religious Life at Hendrix includes the Office of the Chaplain, the Miller Center for Vocation, Ethics, and Calling and the Interfaith Initiative.

Whitney said having a staff member dedicated to interfaith community at Hendrix will help Religious Life connect with even more students.

"There’s a two-pronged purpose to Religious Life at Hendrix: to help students dig deeply into their own faith, and to promote interfaith work among different religious identities, including students who are nonreligious," she said.

While the Miller Center’s programs are open to all students, its roots in the college’s relationship to the United Methodist Church means that some programs are specifically designed for those that come from Christian backgrounds.

"We really saw a need to have dedicated leadership for interfaith work," Whitney said.

According to a news release, a common thread in Religious Life at Hendrix is an emphasis on service, so that all students regardless of their faith background, are encouraged to find ways to come together to serve others.

The Interfaith Initiative, together with the student group Hendrix Interfaith, will host a weekly interfaith meal Thursday night’s focused on building appreciation and understanding among students with a diversity of religious, spiritual and philosophical commitments.

In addition, the initiative will take a religiously diverse group of students on a service-learning trip to a Muslim school in Belize, host a regional interfaith conference including students from five area colleges and cosponsor an academic course on interfaith leadership with the Religious Studies department.

As part of the restructuring, the Service Scholars Program, which encourages students to make leadership through volunteer service a part of their future, will move from the Miller Center to the Interfaith Initiative.

"After a year as the director of the Miller Center, I’m excited to take on this new role with the Interfaith Initiative," Williamson said. "We have already laid the groundwork for vibrant interfaith community through the work of the Miller Center and the Chaplain’s Office."

He said the new, dedicated program will position Hendrix College to be a national leader in interfaith work, particularly among United Methodist-related colleges.

"At the start of the fall semester, our student leaders will be participating in the Interfaith Leadership Institute, hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago,

Williamson said. "I look forward to the exciting things we will do together to develop interfaith community in the years come."

Williamson’s work has been recognized by Interfaith Youth Core, which works with more than 200 college and university campuses on five continents.