Temple project develops map of campus religious spaces

The map will designate areas of religious diversity in North Philadelphia and connect students to the various communities.

Through an interactive map created by Temple students and professors, users will be able to locate North Philadelphia’s religious diversity. | FERNANDO GAXIOLA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Updated 4/16 at 10:13 a.m.

Students and professors partnered with Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership and the Dialogue Institute to launch a religious diversity project in March.

The “Mapping Spaces of Meaning” project will create an interactive online map to highlight North Philadelphia’s religious diversity and help students easily find faith-based spaces on Main Campus. The map encompasses spaces south of Glenwood Avenue, north of Spring Garden Street, west of 6th Street and east of 22nd Street.

“It’s a really powerful thing to be able to ‘re-narrate’ our communities because it helps us to see things through a different lens, a different perspective,” said David Krueger, executive director of the Dialogue Institute and a leader on the project.  “Helping students to notice what’s in their environment, to be able to notice the layers of history that is around them, the layers of meaning that generations of people have projected onto these different places and sites, I just think it’s a really powerful thing.”

The project is funded by a $5,000 grant from Interfaith America, a religious diversity non-profit.

Krueger and Ariella Werden-Greenfield, chair of Temple’s Interfaith Council and the second project leader, brought four students onto the project before winter break. The students completed dialogue training with Krueger in mid-March to learn how to best discuss faith with other students, like how to talk about someone’s practice or bring a conversation away from an argument.

The four students on the team are in charge of identifying meaningful spaces, reaching out to students and collecting survey responses about spaces they hadn’t considered. 

An example of a meaningful space would be the Church of the Advocate on 18th and West Diamond Streets, a Christian church tied to the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 70s.

“I really want people to just explore different faiths, religions and cultures,” said Graysen Gill, a junior criminal justice major and student worker on the project. “I feel like we have a pretty diverse campus here but it can be hard to access those spaces and there’s always a little bit of apprehension. You don’t want to do anything wrong or maybe [don’t] know what questions to ask. We just want to give people an introductory experience to these spaces and the history of the community.”

The student workers will also talk to residents in communities they’re highlighting to better understand religious spaces and gather information to bring to the university.

Sidney Jeffries, another student on the project, believes there’s a disconnect between Temple students and residents who live in North Philadelphia, and this project can be a step forward in forming a stronger relationship.

“I feel like the community is giving us more than we are giving to them,” said Jeffries, a senior community development major. “I think it’s really good having it as a digital project or an archive of Temple students acknowledging how the North Philadelphia community had changed, but also like the history within that and organizing the stuff that we take for granted while being here.”

The project has been developed since before last fall. The idea focused on both Werden-Greenfield and Krueger’s shared experiences in teaching the “Religion in Philadelphia” course and their drive to celebrate campus diversity and help students understand shared religious values. 

Now, the project has taken on a new significance since the start of the latest Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, 2023. Werden-Greenfield and Krueger acknowledged the war as a point of division on campus. 

Students have organized for Palestine and Israel in the months since the Oct. 7 attack. Temple’s Students for Justice in Palestine have held protests to show support for Palestine and Owls for Israel held a vigil for Israeli hostages

The university is currently under investigation by the Department of Education for alleged antisemitism related to student protests.

“Students are isolating into their own affinity groups,” said Krueger, a religion professor. “That’s always been an issue, but I think it’s become more heightened in recent years, and especially in the last several months. I’m not saying that this mapping project is going to be some key grand thing to bring students together, but I think it’s a tool and a way to get people to notice the differences around them, to stimulate curiosity about the others.”

The project leaders want the initiative to continue beyond this semester and become a long-lasting tool for the university. More spaces could be added to the map, or if they receive support from university stakeholders, Krueger wants to make the maps readily available to incoming students as physical pamphlets.

In the next few weeks, the student workers will also table in the student center with a prototype felt map in order to hold more conversations about the project.

“This project is designed to accept the voices of this generation of students and incoming students,” Werden-Greenfield said. “As our campus community grows and changes, this project will document the way that these spaces are being utilized and also continue to tell the story of how they’ve been utilized historically. And so the hope is, again, that we have created a first step towards telling the story of everyone on campus.”

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