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Program to examine God, ethnicity

Conflicts involving race, sex and God have inflamed human passions for centuries--starting wars, toppling empires and, in some cases, even bringing great happiness. So organizers of a new program entitled "Beyond the Comfort Zone" think they might heat things up on campus by mixing all three elements together.

The campus-wide creative competition for students will showcase projects that explore racial, sexual and religious identity and their relation to ethics.

Teams of students from West Campus quads, Trent Drive Hall, Central Campus and East Campus dormitories will submit proposals for skits, benches, murals and other visual or dramatic projects. Two entries from each residential unit will receive a grant of up to $200 for materials, said Bruce Lawrence, Nancy and Jeffrey Marcus humanities professor and professor of Islamic studies. The E.L. Wiegand Foundation is providing funding.

The deadline for proposals is Sept. 15, and a festival for all the works is scheduled for the weekend of Oct. 17-20.

Lawrence and Kenan Institute for Ethics Director Elizabeth Kiss developed the idea, originally intended to get students talking about the issue of race on campus. But as discussions continued, organizers realized that race was too limiting a subject, Kiss said.

"[The inclusion of sex and God] came out of the sense that these are issues that are all very important and that we often don't do a job of talking about honestly," she said. "That kind of honest encounter that goes beyond the comfort zone is what is needed to really build community."

Student projects must incorporate at least two of the three topics and approach the endeavor within an ethical framework.

"The idea is to have Duke undergraduates explore how social relations develop, why do people get together in fraternities and sororities and independent groups, and how do they think about people of the opposite sex and the same sex?" Lawrence asked. "And, importantly, does any of this have anything to do with God?"

The program is being advertised to students in multiple ways, including via e-mail listservs, on screensavers on library computers and through word of mouth, Assistant Dean of Students Andrea Caldwell said. Residential advisors, graduate assistants and residence coordinators are also spreading the word as well as providing guidance on the projects.

Nick Csikesz, a student on the organizing committee, said the competition will allow participants to think about issues that they do not encounter at Duke on a day-to-day basis.

"Ideally this could get a good amount of participation," Csikesz said. "But as much as getting a lot of people to see that this is happening is important, it is more important that these types of issues are discussed."

The program also features a film and lecture series, with Brooklyn Babylon, a 2000 film that presents a cross-cultural Romeo and Juliet story, kicking off events Sept. 19. The lecture series is still in the works.

Kiss urged students to visit the competition's website at www.duke.edu/web/comfyzone to learn more.

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