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Public Scholarship and Community Engagement
The Initiative is one of public scholarship, drawing on the expertise of professional academic religious studies to complement the offerings of an already robust Interfaith community, a community of dialogue and action that is richly sustained by a range of interfaith institutions as the St. Paul Interfaith Network, the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, and the Joint Religious Legislative Coalition.
The interfaith movement, trained as it is on dialogue among people of faith, can be complemented by civically engaged, accessible, and effective public scholars and teachers of religious studies. The value added is not simply one of academic credentials and institutions; more elementally it resides in the religious studies scholar’s ability to engage religious traditions and peoples sympathetically but without sharing their theological assumptions; to speak in the language of the public square, and not simply in the language of inter-religious dialogue.
Especially for professionals in education, journalism, health, and legal/civic spheres, religious studies scholarship can help provide the nuanced historical and cultural contexts that complicate shibboleths like “Islam” and “Buddhism” and enriches an appreciation for the life of religion in Minnesota’s communities.
Finally, religious studies scholars can help Minnesota communities navigate conversations across religious difference, mindful of the civic implications and the gray areas of the place of religion and American public life. Especially when imagined in terms of partnerships with targeted communities and organizations—like those in St. Cloud, Faribault, White Earth, and Minneapolis/St. Paul, where we already have begun to established relationships—the possibilities are as rich as they are various for the shape of this public scholarship and its potential influence. The project is ongoing and we welcome those who are interested in learning more to contact us.