An Interfaith Experience

By Shea Seiff
Research Assistant, The Comparison Project

Three hundred footsteps fell in time to the traditional bhajan songs echoing through Parent’s Hall the evening of November 15, 2017. The Interfaith and Multicultural Fair, hosted by the Des Moines Area Religious Council (DMARC), The Comparison Project, and the Drake Community Press brought together fifteen different religious communities, all of whom are the focus of DCP’s latest project, A Spectrum of Faith. Set to be released in the spring, the book features stories written and edited by Drake University students, accompanied by beautiful snapshots of religious and cultural diversity taken by photographer, Bob Blanchard.

As the fair commenced, guests were able to visit the booths where each community displayed symbols and items significant to their particular faith.* Traditional food was also provided for guests to try, including egg rolls and Koulouria, a type of Greek cookie.** The event was open to the public free of charge, and hundreds flooded to Drake University’s Olmsted Center to experience the vast array of cultures and religions that are present here in Des Moines – traditions that encompass the rich culture of Iowa. Performers played music and danced to traditional songs as their audience sat back and soaked in the night’s festivities.

Dustin Eubanks, a junior at Drake University, and one of the student researchers for A Spectrum of Faith, so enjoyed the Yiddish music played by the Java Jew’s, Iowa’s one and only klezmer band, he couldn’t help but dance along on the side of the stage.*** One highlight of the event was the evening’s prayer, conducted on stage by several of the Muslim guests from the featured communities. The muezzin’s call to prayer resonated throughout Parent’s Hall, drawing many curious onlookers into the event. It is events like this that bring students and faculty together with others of the Des Moines community to have open discourse about different traditions, raising awareness about the religious diversity in Des Moines.

Sarah Bell, a sophomore at Drake University, attended the event not only as a student and member of Drake’s Hillel, but she also helped to represent Tifereth Israel Synagogue at their booth. Sarah and her family have been members of Tifereth for many years and she reflected upon her experiences, “I really enjoyed getting to see the interactions between people of different faiths. I think it’s important to learn about other cultures and religions around the world and around your community. It’s important in this day and age that we all accept each other whether we are the same religion or not, and that despite out religious differences we get along and show respect for everyone.”

But the night didn’t end once the fair was over. Following the Interfaith and Multicultural fair was the 37th Martin Bucksbaum Distinguished Lecture. The night’s featured guest was Krista Tippett, an American journalist, author, and talk show radio host best known for smartly and sensitively tackling life’s toughest questions. “Becoming Wise: An Evening with Krista Tippett” was held at Drake University’s Knapp Center and drew a large crowd eager to hear the words of one of the world’s leading journalists covering faith and religion. In addition to her many passions and pursuits, Tippett is also an advocate for civil discourse.

After the opening words from Drake University President, Marty Martin, Professor Tim Knepper took the stage to introduce Tippett. Once the lecture concluded, Tippet took questions that were posed by the audience, as well as via Twitter. A lot of the questions focused on how to have a positive and beneficial discourse with people who have drastically different beliefs than you, in situations like this last election cycle, where there was such a partisan divide.

Not only did Tippit give a lecture and attend the Interfaith and Multicultural fair, but preceding the lecture at the Knapp Center she held a Q&A session with about fifty Drake students in Sussman Theater, where she answered questions about religion and civil discourse. Drake University senior and community writer for the St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Alliyah Greaver, attended both the Q&A and the lecture, “We need to be more conscious of the words we’re using, and in the political climate we’re in need to focus more on conversations and building relationships than debating each other.”

Looking toward the future, there are many events to come this year. This semester, The Comparison Project will continue its lecture series on Death and Dying beginning with “Buddhism and The Dilemmas of Death” by Damien Keown, an emeritus professor of Buddhist Ethics at Goldsmiths College, University of London. This event will be held on Thursday, February 9th at 7:00 p.m. in Sussman Theater, which is located in the bottom level of the Drake University Olmsted Center. Events both on and off campus allow for Drake students to come together with members of the Des Moines community in order to share their experiences and perspectives on religion. For more information, visit or find The Comparison Project on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @drakecomparison.


Photos provided by Drake University
Editors : Carol Spaulding- Kruse and Makena Schoene

The Interfaith and Multicultural Fair was made possible by the efforts of so many. Thank you to Tim Knepper, professor of philosophy at Drake University and director of The Comparison Project; Leah Kalmanson, co-director for TCP and assistant professor of philosophy. Thank you to the members of Drake University’s religion faculty that help plan events such as this and serve on the TCP board: Jennifer Harvey, professor of religion; and Brad Crowell, associate professor of religion. The advisory board is also comprised by several members of the community including Sarai Rice, executive director of the Des Moines Area Religious Council; Richard Deming, medical director of the Mercy Cancer Center and founder and chairman of Above + Beyond Cancer; and Osman Arslan, executive director of the Niagara Foundation of Iowa. Thank you to the students who volunteered with this project: research assistants Matt Becke, Nathan Jacobson, Shea Seiff, and Chamindi Wijesinghe; Carla Herling, website designer, and Kayla Jenkins who now maintains it.

The Comparison Project is generously supported by the following donors:


*A complete list of all religious communities in attendance

Beth El Jacob Synagogue (Orthodox Judaism)

Burns United Methodist Church (Protestant Christianity)

Ezan Islamic and Educational Center (Islam)

Hindu Temple and Cultural Center of Iowa (Hinduism)

Temple and Education Center (Hinduism)

Iowa Sikh Association (Sikhism)

Center of Des Moines (Islam)

Masjid an Noor (Islam)

Sikhs of Iowa Khalsa Heritage, Inc. (Sikhism)

George Greek Orthodox Church (Orthodox Christianity)

Temple B’nai Jeshurun (Reform Judaism)

Tifereth Israel Synagogue (Conservative Judaism)

Tu Vien Hong Duc (Mahayana Buddhism)

Wat Phothisomphan (Theravada Buddhism)

**Food provided

Beef and chicken samosas — Masjid an-Noor

Bhutanese food — Hindu Cultural and Educational Center

Bosnian food — Ezan Islamic and Educational Center

Egg rolls — Tu Vien Hong Duc

Koulouria (a type of Greek cookie) — St. George Greek Orthodox Church

Veggie samosas, mint chutney, and mango lassi — Iowa Sikh Association

***Music and Performances

Bhutanese Hindu bhajan singing and dancing — Hindu Educational and Cultural Center

Bosnian women’s choir — Ezan Islamic and Cultural Center

Greek Orthodox hymn — St. George Greek Orthodox Church

Sikh hymns by the Children’s Choir, Dhol performance by Baljeet Singh—Iowa Sikh Association “Sim Shalom,” a traditional Jewish prayer for peace from cantorial soloists Laura Sparks and Ira Lacher — Temple B’nai Jeshurun

Traditional Vietnamese song — Tu Vien Hong Duc

Yiddish music — Java Jews.