Students present in panel on gender and sexual identity in religious communities during 2023 Berkley Center symposium


Berkley Center Research Symposium Showcases Students’ Interreligious, Intercultural Competency and Intellectual Curiosity

By: Siobhan Cooney

May 16, 2023

The Berkley Center offers a number of ways for students to get involved in our work, including conducting research through our global fellowship programs, taking courses through our Religion, Ethics, and World Affairs (REWA) minor, and participating in experiential learning through the Doyle Engaging Difference Program.

On April 22, the Berkley Center hosted its annual student research symposium featuring the capstone projects from graduating REWA minors, as well as student research projects from other Berkley Center programs and courses.

Dr. Ryann Craig, director of student programs and assistant research professor at the Berkley Center, considers the symposium to be the high point of the year: “I love seeing our students shine in front of their peers and the wider campus community.”

She also emphasizes how the event allows students to showcase their interreligious and intercultural competency as well as intellectual curiosity.

“All of our student programs are designed with three objectives in mind. We want students to be able to demonstrate global awareness, analytical abilities, and integrated interdisciplinary knowledge.”

Interdisciplinary Religion Research

Students enrolled in the REWA minor develop a nuanced understanding of the role of faith and values across a myriad of topic areas including international relations, comparative politics, and history and cultures.

Domenic DeSantes (C’23) leaned into this interdisciplinarity when developing his capstone project on “The Contributions of Christian Churches to Peacemaking in the Israel-Palestine Conflict” that he presented during the panel on “Church and State in the United States and Beyond.”

“This area of study was something completely new for me, so I relied heavily on the themes I learned in my REWA classes to guide me—mostly to be careful with terminology, respect the historical and religious contexts, and to check my religious and political biases and assumptions as I think about international conflicts.”

Dr. Craig describes how students often tell her that the REWA minor is the space in which they are able to bring together their overlapping interests in ways that they cannot necessarily do in their majors.

This sentiment is also shared by students who are not enrolled in the REWA minor. Isabel Janovsky (C’23), a student in the spring 2023 Francophone Feminist Thought Doyle Seminar, presented her senior French thesis on “Delphine Horvilleur: l’indéfinissable” during the panel on “Challenging Boundaries and Barriers.”

“I chose to sign up for the Berkley Center Symposium because I wanted an opportunity to share my research in English, even though I had gone through the whole project in French,” says Janovsky. “Horvilleur’s writings aim to transcend religious, linguistic, and national boundaries, and I think Jewish (and non-Jewish) readers and listeners from New York to Paris to Jerusalem would all be able to relate in one way or another to her writings.”

Student-Scholar Skills and Mindset

One of the goals of the Berkley Center research symposium is to equip participants with the skillset and mentality of student-scholars. Mackenzie Poust, the graduate teaching assistant for the REWA capstone course for the 2022-2023 academic year, witnessed this transformation firsthand as she worked alongside the students as they navigated the research process from initial conception to final presentation.

She believes that this kind of symposium experience is an invaluable opportunity for undergraduates to hone the skills they have spent the last few years cultivating, as it encourages creativity and critical thinking.

“This is where the Berkley Center student programs come in,” says Poust, “preparing them to consider context, think deeper, and reflect on the importance of religion and ethics in the practice of world affairs.”

Kendall Flaharty (C’23) found this to be the case as she presented her REWA capstone project on “The Church and Gender Inequality in Latin America” during the panel on “Gender and Sexual Identity in Religious Communities.”

“My experience in Berkley Center student programs really pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me not only to think critically about new ideas but formulate and present my thoughts about them.”

Janovsky agrees, especially noting the importance of being a part of an intellectual community with other symposium participants.

“Presenting alongside other extremely talented and accomplished individuals also validated my confidence in my own work and my ability to create, research, and share essential thoughts about Judaism, religion, feminism, and humanity.”

Across the Hilltop and Beyond

In addition to the in-person panel sessions, both REWA minors and general Berkley Center students have dedicated digital spaces containing their project abstracts, bibliographies, and presentation materials. The Berkley Center invited the wider Georgetown community to comment on these virtual projects to further engage students on their research topics.

Even after the symposium ends, students do not stop reaping the benefits of their hard work. According to Dr. Craig, these capstone projects often serve as a REWA minor’s writing sample for graduate school applications or unique points of discussion in job interviews.

“Having minors present in the symposium setting gives them the chance to practice how to speak about research to a general audience,” she says, “preparing them for future conversations beyond the Hilltop.”

Dr. Craig also highlights the impact of casting a wider net beyond the REWA minor and allowing any student enrolled in a Berkley Center program or class to participate.

“This has opened the door for students engaging with religion in all kinds of spaces, including our Doyle Global Dialogue students, to highlight their work. We hope next year’s symposium will include even more students examining and reflecting on the role religion plays in how people make decisions globally.”

Opens in a new window