How Hartford Seminary Students and Faculty Interfaith Efforts Support Refugees

interfaith efforts to support refugees

Refugees can face overwhelming challenges as they strive to rebuild their lives in an unfamiliar country, assimilate into a new culture, become economically self-sufficient, and even, simply to survive. 

In order to meet these challenges and navigate the hardships that can accompany them, refugees need help. 

Faith into Action

Hartford Seminary students and faculty put their faith into action, stepping up to support these especially vulnerable people.

Allyson Zacharoff, a rabbinical student and former Hartford Seminary Conflict Resolution Fellow, has provided logistical support for Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees, a coalition of different faith and secular groups committed to helping refugees. 

“A key tenet of Judaism is betzelem Elohim, a concept that we are all created in the image of the Divine,” says Zacharoff. “That means we must never forget the deep value and holiness of every single person. This calls us to remember, in all situations, that each human life is of infinite value, and we share a common humanity that demands of us compassion and care in all situations.

“I was called to this work because of my commitment to working with people of different faiths to make this world a better place for this and future generations.”

While she sees her work as important to her as a person of faith, Zacharoff also recognizes that a thin line exists between her reality and the very different one experienced by the refugees she seeks to help.

“I am so fortunate to have been born and raised in the U.S. and all that comes with that, and yet I so easily could have been born into a situation like those in Syria. I would hope that others would fight to help me, were I in that situation. So, it is essential that we fight for them.”

Multifaith Shared Mandate for Helping Refugees

Rev. Dr. David D. Grafton, Ph.D., Academic Dean & Professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary, served as the pastor at St. Andrew’s United Church in Cairo, Egypt, which had an international congregation and a refugee ministry, St. Andrew’s Refugee Services

“Because Cairo has an office for the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees, many asylum seekers come there seeking asylum,” says Grafton. “The process normally takes two years. So, for those two years we provided services to qualified refugees. Most of the refugees came from Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.  After 2003 there was an influx of Iraqis. Now, I imagine there will be some Afghans.”

The inclusive St. Andrew’s staff includes Christians, Muslims, African Traditional Religionists, as well as a few avowed Marxists. The program also hires former refugees to run the program.

Since returning to the United States, Grafton’s work with refugees has continued. He has helped resettle an Iraqi family in Pennsylvania and worked with Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), one of the leading resettlement agencies in Connecticut, to provide business opportunities for Syrian refugees. 

In addition, Grafton has helped raise awareness of the plight of refugees. In 2017, he coordinated a conference at Hartford Seminary, “Where is Home? The Refugee Crisis in Europe and the U.S.” 

“Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all share the same scriptural mandate to care for the foreigner and the refugee. All three religions share an experience of being a refugee,” says Grafton, “Moses, Jesus and his family, and Muhammad all fled political turmoil or persecution. All three religions require their followers to care for the refugee.”Hartford Seminary offers an MA in Interreligious Studies (MAIRS) program. This 36-credit-hour graduate degree engages students in advanced academic study of the lived reality of religions in public multifaith contexts. The program offers specializations in Interreligious Studies, Islamic Studies, and Ministerial Studies. Learn more about the MAIRS program.

Photo Credit:
Title: Syrian refugees in Turkey
Author: EU Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid
License: CC BY 2.0.