Jessica Sitek has witnessed Christian preparations for Easter in Spain, spoke with survivors of the Kurdish genocide during a five-month stay in Iraq, conducted a field study of how Islam interacts with other religions in Malaysia and observed Hinduism first-hand in India. But while uniquely qualified to teach Macomb’s existing courses in comparative religions, the third-year instructor is currently developing a new one that explores the connection between food and religion.
“Food as storytelling is something that greatly interests me,” says Sitek, who grew up in Macomb by way of Hamtramck, where her grandparents first settled after emigrating from Poland. “I really enjoy producing my own sauerkraut and collecting the family’s honey harvest.”
In developing the new course, Sitek enlisted her students in the creation of a recent library exhibit: Food and Religion: The Ethical and Spiritual Dimension of Eating. It was also part of her focus while a member of the first class of the KAICIID International Fellows Programme, an intergovernmental peacebuilding organization sponsored by the Republic of Austria, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kingdom of Spain and the Holy See.
“My first challenge,” she says, “was confronting my place of privilege.”
Sitek holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Philosophy from Central Michigan University and a Master’s Degree in Religious Studies from Temple University in Philadelphia. With a recommendation from Philadelphia’s Dialogue Institute, where she worked, Sitek was selected to join 20 educators from 16 countries for the year-long KAICIID program. There were visits to the organization’s headquarters in Vienna and to several other countries, all designed, says Sitek, “to put a face on theology.”
In addition to sharing insight gained from the prestigious fellowship, field trips are also an important part of Sitek’s courses, including those to the Detroit Zen Center, Temple Beth El and Islamic Center in Dearborn. The trips are not mandatory, but many of her students choose to take part anyway.
“My students are all very respectful and inquisitive,” says Sitek. “They really appreciate learning about other cultures.”