Lubar Institute develops interfaith performance program for teens

May 2, 2011

“What is a courageous act?”

“I can’t think of anything courageous I’ve done in my life.”

These were among the most common concerns voiced at a meeting of 20 Madison-area high school students — Jewish, Christian and Muslim — when they first met this past January to embark on the semester-long “Courage Project,” the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions’ (LISAR) first project involving area youth.

Now, these students will put on a performance about their experiences in finding courage in themselves and in getting to know each other. Performances will run the gamut from original poetry readings to musical performances and interpretive dance — all inspired by the students’ interfaith connection.

LISAR graduate fellow Rohany Nayan, Cantor Deborah Martin of Temple Beth El and Pastor Katie Baardseth of Midvale Lutheran Church, all in Madison, have developed a unique program that trains teens to develop the courage necessary to work through stereotypes about others and to communicate honestly with each other about their personally held beliefs.

“Just like with other LISAR’s programs, we are not looking to homogenize the Abrahamic traditions into a ‘melting pot of similarities,'” says Nayan, developer of the program. “Rather, we encourage students to get to know their neighbors, to seek each other out from the perspective of their own faiths, and to learn about our similarities and differences. We encourage the students to appreciate each others’ traditions without unmooring them from theirs.”

“Being able to meet people different from myself and then collaborating on a project we all believe in has been an unbelievable experience,” says Samantha Lauhon, a Courage Project participant, member of Temple Beth El and a junior at Madison West High School. “We see each other at school now and are genuine friends.”

“I didn’t just love learning about the different religions, but also about the different cultures,” says Betul Bolat, a Muslim freshman from Middleton High School. “Experiencing the food of a new heritage was really exciting.”

The performance will take place on Sunday, May 8 from 3-5 p.m. at Shorewood Elementary School, 1105 Shorewood Boulevard, in the village of Shorewood. The event is free and open to the public.