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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Interview Series Gives Students a Professional Platform

Faith Complex, a web interview series that explores the intersection of faith, religion and culture through interviews with various experts, filmed its latest installment in Riggs Library Tuesday.

Jacques Berlinerblau, the director of Georgetown’s Program for Jewish Civilization, founded the series in 2009 with a Reflective Engagement grant for academic research from University President John J. DeGioia, though the series is currently funded by the PJC.

When the program first began, Berlinerblau conducted all the interviews.

“People were asking me a lot of questions in 2008 [after I published a book],” Berlinerblausaid. “It hit me that I wanted to get on the other side of this and ask the questions.”

Over the past three semesters, students have taken the lead. They conducted nine of the 11 interviews Tuesday.

“At PJC, we have a model: students come first,” Berlinerblau said. “It made sense that students would lead [Faith Complex]. We very much have a journalistic attitude here at the PJC.”

Ghazi Bin Hamed (SFS ’15), a former student of Berlinerblau’s freshman proseminar “Secularism in America,” said that the students treat the project as a professional endeavor.

“The thing is, Faith Complex is very legitimate because we’re on all of these platforms,” Hamed said. “We don’t think of ourselves as students when we’re filming the show. Most interviewees may think that it is not that professional, but it changes their mind when they see our set and production.”

Faith Complex has two production days and airs approximately 20 episodes on YouTube, The Huffington Post and on the web platform of magazine The Jewish Week each year.

“An alum had a connection to The Huffington Post,” Hamed said. “Otherwise, we send out emails to relevant blogs linking to the video. We don’t seek royalties. It’s very hodgepodge, but it works out at the end of the day.”

The interviews all contain an element of faith, though the connection is not readily apparent at first. Interviews explore topics ranging from hip-hop theology to a new museum about Polish Jews in the Warsaw ghetto.

“We’re a very eclectic group with very different interests,” Hamed said. “I usually seek interviewees with an artsier or more creative side to things. Once you find that connection between the interviewer and the subject, that’s what makes a good piece.”

According to Hamed, Faith Complex utilizes professor and family relationships in seeking speakers. Group members generally send a total of 20 to 30 emails and receive 15 responses, which lead to six or seven interviews.

The show has attracted many high-profile guests in the past, including former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and columnists from The New York Times and The Washington Post.

Danny Woods (SFS ’16), who works for the PJC, pointed to Georgetown’s prestige as the factor that makes Faith Complex so successful in finding guests.

“[Faith Complex] gives them the chance to speak to a young college audience and to be involved in their development,” Woods said. “We, as Georgetown students, have a good reputation for being serious.”

The series, however, prides itself on its inclusion of Georgetown professors as guests, including former Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs visiting professor Abdullahi An-Na’im and sociology professor Michael Eric Dyson.

Berlinerblau said that he hoped to make professors a more prominent part of the show.

“Georgetown has such a dynamic faculty,” Berlinerblau said. “I want to help them radiate.”

This session of interviews included Director of the Religion and Public Policy Program at the Woodstock Theological Center Fr. Thomas Reese, S.J., Director of Research at the Public Religion Research Institute Daniel Cox, senior writer for Tablet Magazine Allison Hoffman, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America Edwina Rogers, associate professor in the government department Michele Swers and author of “The Soul of Hip Hop” Daniel White Hodge.

In his interview, Reese spoke about the role of religion in the 2012 presidential election.

“I talked about the conflict between U.S. Catholic Bishops and Obama, and their concerns about abortion, gay marriage and the freedom of religion. I talked about the fact that Catholics voted for Obama instead of following the bishops,” Reese said.

Reese said that the student-conducted interviews were a welcome departure from his usual interviews with reporters.

“I’ve done a lot of these kinds of interviews,” Reese said. “I get hundreds of phone calls from reporters. It was nice to do it with Georgetown students.”

Reese added that the students were as good as professional reporters in conducting the interview.

“They had someone to do makeup. … It all went very seamlessly,” Reese said. “The interviewer had questions that they were prepared to ask. Normally, the producer will call you and give you a feel for what the angle [of the segment] is and what your responses will be, then when you get with the interviewer, God only knows what will happen. But [Faith Complex] was not like that.”

Katelyn McNelis (SFS ’15) interviewed Reese and was interested in his thoughts on Paul Ryan’s use of Catholicism to support his budget plan, which Reese has spoken about in many media outlets and as a guest on “The Colbert Report.”

“I was raised Catholic and my personal interpretation of Catholic doctrine isn’t in accordance with a lot of the ways Catholicism is taught by the bishops. It was interesting to hear that point of view from a priest,” McNelis said.

Reese was impressed by McNelis’ professionalism and interviewing skills.

“I told [her] she was just as good as [Stephen] Colbert,” Reese said.

Students participated in all aspects of the show’s production as hosts, producers and researchers, and they also gave input on which guests would appear on the show.

“This is not a normal college experience,” Audrey Anderson, PJC program officer and Faith Complex executive producer, said. “You’re building skills and putting them into practice in a real-life situation. This is also adding to students’ resumes; they each have a title within the credits.”

Woods said that the most surprising part of the experience was the interviewees’ nervousness in front of the cameras.

“It was surprising how doing something in front of a camera makes people more nervous,” Woods said. “It was interesting seeing some of our guests get nervous — I didn’t expect that.”
The students involved were either members of the PJC or students in Berlinerblau’s proseminar.

“I got involved last winter when I went to a PJC interest meeting and was recruited,” McNelis said. “Once Berlinerblau explained to me the premise of the show, I was hooked. As someone who is extremely interested in religion and the different ways in which religion interacts with society, culture and politics, it was a perfect match.”

Participants also emphasized that although the series was associated with the PJC, the program spoke to a variety of different experiences.

“I really think [Faith Complex] is important because we’ve had a lot of people on the show who might be considered minorities,” Alexa West (SFS ’13) said. “The show is giving them a voice.”

Woods stressed that the diversity of the student participants contributes to the diversity of speakers on the show.

“I really like that we bring in all different perspectives and viewpoints, be they really conservative, liberal or somewhere in between,” Woods said. “Everyone has a voice.”

Berlinerblau added that Faith Complex is consistent with Georgetown’s goal of finding the intersection between religion and public policy.

“Our location in Washington, D.C. is unprecedented,” Berlinerblau said. “Georgetown takes these issues from both a spiritual and scholarly perspective so seriously. I can’t imagine having the show anywhere else.”

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