Rebecca Cardone realized last year she could immerse herself in three of the world's major religions — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — while studying abroad through California Lutheran University.
So during the summer, Cardone, 21, went to Turkey, where she learned about Islam and Christianity. Then she went to Israel and the West Bank, where she studied Judaism. In the fall, she headed to England, home of the Anglican Church, where she focused on popular ideas about social justice. Finally, she traveled throughout Europe, where she visited Jewish communities.
"I'm fascinated by how people believe different things," Cardone said. "It's tied into their culture, tied into their roots."
That fascination is reflected in Cardone's studies at CLU. She's majoring in political science and global studies and minoring in religion and philosophy.
Her family, however, had some misgivings about her travels.
"My family was not as thrilled as I was," she said. "There's a lot of fear. It's the Islamist phobia. But Turkey can help there. ... Turkey is becoming more comfortable with being a bridge between East and West."
Cardone is continuing her studies this summer, researching how Turkey can maintain its secular government while honoring the faiths of all its people; 98 percent of the population is Muslim.
"Actually, secularism is overpowering religion, limiting the freedom of expression," she said. "I'm asking: Can they affirm freedom of rights but still respect the secular nation?
... There's a fear that Islam is taking over Turkey. This is a call for dialogue."
Cardone also is investigating how nations such as Israel and Iran, with strong majority religions, can protect the rights of those with other beliefs and whether Turkey can serve as an example of that.
She's working with two professors this summer on that research: Julia Fogg, chairwoman of CLU's religion department; and Michael Brint, a professor of political science and international studies.
Both describe Cardone as brilliant, curious and compassionate. She's also understated about her accomplishments, which include playing the viola in the CLU Honors Ensemble.
"She's incredibly curious, so she has a drive to understand things," Fogg said. "But she doesn't do it in a loud way."
And her work goes beyond academics, Brint said.
"She has some calling for bringing people of different faiths together," he said.
Cardone, who identifies herself as an interfaith humanist, traveled abroad while already deeply involved in interfaith groups at CLU. She chose the university after taking a tour led by a Jewish student. After she decided to attend, she joined the Secular Student Alliance, whose members learn about other faiths by attending services and visiting religious communities. She also joined the new Interfaith Youth Corps, which will act as a liaison among religion groups on campus.
"It allows me to learn from people of different faiths and determine how that applies to my life as a global citizen," she said. "Seeking to understand in communities is sometimes more important than agreeing."
This year, Cardone will be CLU's student body president. In that role, she'll try to help students be more aware of the diversity on campus while respecting the university's roots as a Lutheran school, she said.
After graduating, Cardone would like to explore Syria and Iran. She's also considering graduate school to study politics, particularly foreign policy analysis.
And she'll travel whenever she can.
"Traveling is such a huge part of who I am," Cardone said. "Traveling reminds us that we don't know everything, that there are different perspectives, different ways of life."
--- Published in the Ventura County Star on July 23, 2012