Universal Faith: ambitious Webb student journalist publishes her first book
by Andrew Alonzo | email@example.com
Seventeen-year-old Vivian Webb School senior Jenny Wang, co-editor-in-chief of the Webb Canyon Chronicle, captain of the school’s debate team and co-ed badminton squad, and podcaster, can now add “published author” to her already bulging resume.
Her first book, “Universal Faith: Conversations with 15 Religious Leaders in Southern California,” was published August 29 and is available at amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
Courier readers may remember Wang’s byline on a host of recent stories, including “Webb student’s unique journey of self-discovery,” and “From Germany to Shanghai: a Holocaust survivor’s story.” Now fans of the ambitious and talented student journalist can sink their teeth into her new book.
The title, which is also the name of her podcast, Universal Faith, includes conversations with leaders from various faiths, including Judaism, Christianity, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Buddhism, Hinduism, and others. It is broken up into five chapters on commonalities: creativity, memory, community, social justice, and love. Each spotlight how different religions strive toward a common ideal.
“We believe different things. We might appear differently in the media, and we might have different political beliefs, but we are, in the end, trying to do the same thing: trying to be kind to our neighbors and help those in need and advocate for each other,” Wang said. “I do want people, when they read it, to see hope that there is a possibility that we can overcome our polarization and stereotypes and misunderstanding of each other.”
Inspiration for the book started back in 2020 during the race between former President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Wang said she witnessed firsthand how politics were having an impact on her Christian church.
“It sort of changed the way that I see religious relationship with government,” she said. In her April 2023 Courier column, “Interfaithfully speaking: The discovery of ‘universal faith,’” she wrote that her worldview was turned upside down during that period.
“Election-deniers permeated digital outlets, and heartbreakingly, my own pastor was one of them,” Wang wrote. “I failed to come to terms with the fact that someone I trusted and relied on so dearly –– who introduced me to the kingdom of God –– could endorse such flagrant partisan warfare.
“I was dumbfounded, hurt, incredulous, with all the impossible notions swirling through my mind. Religion’s link with conservative politics was no longer a far-fetched story but was in fact manifesting in front of my eyes.”
The realizations around the election opened a door for Wang to explore the link between politics and religion. Last summer, she enrolled in a research course at University of California, Santa Barbara, that blended oral history methodology with political science and anthropology. Already a seasoned journalist, the Webb student came back later that fall ready to merge her new skills with her news skills.
“When I came back to Webb, I wanted to do something that combined oral history as a methodology while also allowing me to further expand my interest in religion. That’s how I first decided to just cold email the religious leaders in Claremont,” she said.
Wang networked with the Claremont Interfaith Council and reached out to rabbis and pastors based in Claremont before widening her horizons. She questioned the leaders about how they see religion and their faith being connected to politics, activism, gender equality, and other polarizing topics, and found “real people struggling with their beliefs; also very inspiring stories.”
“Most of the people I talked to [had] already spent decades ministering to their community and pursuing their faith,” Wang said. “What I was most touched with was the friendship they showed for each other across interreligious dialogue. They’re able to like talk to each other on equal planes and then I really liked hearing how they advocated for each other in the face of religious persecution.”
She had two major intentions while researching and writing: to try and break out of her monolithic Christian point of view, and to openly tackle sometimes fraught religious and political talking points with a wide range of leaders.
“I wanted to learn more about other faith traditions and narratives,” Wang said. “I wanted to see what are the positive impacts that religious leaders can have on the community and what exactly they were doing to collaborate with each other to address community issues like hunger, homelessness, things like that.”
From Zoom interviews to publishing, the entire process took about a year.
With the book project now off her plate, Wang is shifting her focus back to college applications and being a good upperclassman to her younger peers. She’s also hoping for success as her final season with the Webb badminton team looms.
Wang thanked her family for their support during the last year. She also had gratitude for help from Claremont Heritage, esteemed local imprint Bamboo Dart Press, and Theresa Smith, Webb Schools’ head of schools, who wrote the introduction.
Wang will hold a reading for students and faculty at Webb later this month, followed by a public launch and reading atClaremont Heritage. Check the Courier for updates.