A conversation with Ansari Office Coordinator Erica Loding

Author: Josh Stowe

Erica Loding

Erica Loding serves as office coordinator for the Ansari Institute for Global Engagement with religion. She organizes events, coordinates internship programs, and provides administrative support for the institute. 

Loding earned an MA in International Relations from Michigan State University, where her research focused on the role of human rights NGOs in the incorporation of international law into domestic policy. She has also taught courses on international organizations and the United Nations. 

Her previous experience includes time at The Hague, Netherlands; the International Criminal Court; the Special Tribunal of Lebanon; the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia; the Coalition for the International Criminal Court and civil society actors; and the Peace Palace—home to the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration. She has a continued interest in international courts and the rights of women, mothers, and children.

In this conversation, Loding shares how her faith and focus on human rights connect with her work at the Ansari Institute. She also discusses the opportunities her role provides to help people from different faith traditions come together in dialogue to promote human flourishing.  

Q: How does your own faith tradition, and your experience of meeting people from other traditions, inform your work? 

A: I grew up Catholic, and went to Catholic schools from K-12. But one of the nice things about the Catholic school that I attended was that many students who attended my school weren't Catholic. We had Christians of all denominations, Hindus, and students from many other faiths. And so, even though I went to a Catholic school, we spent a lot of time talking about other religions. 

That was nice, in the sense that it prepared me for what I might see when I stepped out of my smaller community. And I think that also partially played a role in cultivating my interest in  human rights. Now, working at a Catholic university has given me the opportunity to really appreciate being at a place where my faith is held as a priority. But it’s also nice to work at a place where there is an acceptance for different faiths, and to meet scholars and staff members from around the world who come from different faiths. I feel blessed that I get both of those aspects. I'm free to more deeply engage with my own religion, but I also can learn more about other people and their traditions. 

Q: Encountering and learning from people from different faith traditions is an important concept at the Ansari Institute, which seeks to be a “crossroad of religions.” What does that mean to you? 

A: I think it's really valuable what the Ansari Institute is doing in bringing together religious leaders from different faiths. It's not something that I really spent a lot of time thinking about before I came here, and it’s not something I really thought happened, but it's certainly valuable because religious leaders are all looking to better the communities that they serve. And these common themes of serving others and putting out more good into the world apply no matter what faith you hold. 

I would also say the work of the Ansari Institute is important because it offers educational events and discussions on religions that many of us may not have been exposed to. We may not have met someone that comes from a particular faith. This has provided educational opportunities for me to learn more about different traditions and given me an understanding that I otherwise would not have had. 

Q: As someone who studies human rights in a global context, how important are these encounters and the religious literacy they help promote? 

A: Inter-religious dialogue plays an integral part in protecting and preserving human rights, especially when it comes to keeping peace among different communities and different groups of people. It’s important to put things in perspective when we are examining human rights, and to acknowledge that different religions perceive these rights and how they're applied in different ways. 

I would say that a lack of religious knowledge played a part in some of the misunderstanding of different religious and ethnic groups in the violence that I studied at the International Criminal Court. Had there been a better understanding across different communities, perhaps that could have been avoided. Ultimately, encountering and talking with people from different communities and faith traditions is crucial to building understanding, good will, and a more just and peaceful world.