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December 7, 2021+Team HxA
+Faith & Religion

The Deep Differences Project: Reimagining Religious Diversity in the Academy

In the spring of 2021, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and Heterodox Academy (HxA) invited over 100 scholars and thought leaders across the North American academy to reflect on the following question: How might we effectively and meaningfully center religious diversity in higher education — academically, programmatically, and operationally?

We received scores of responses that demonstrated the richness and breadth of ideation on this subject. In keeping with our organizations’ shared belief that robust public engagement among diverse viewpoints should undergird all aspects of the academy, we now are pleased to engage a wider audience in this important conversation through a series of public discussions, or what we’re calling “charrettes.”

What’s a Charrette? (Hint: It’s not just another webinar)

Traditionally, a “charrette” is a collaborative session in which a group convenes to design a solution to a complex problem. In our case, the complex problem we face is the one articulated in the prompt above: how might we effectively and meaningfully center religious diversity in higher education? 

We thus envision a series of charrettes that convene faculty, administrators, students, and public intellectuals – each with different backgrounds, disciplines, and perspectives – to collaborate toward the goal of generating actionable best practices for uplifting diverse viewpoints and identities across campus life. Each charrette will focus on one approach to this complex problem and will be facilitated by a set of scholars with particular insight into the topic. However, these are not panels nor presentations. Rather, our goal is that all of the charrettes will be dynamic and interactive. Facilitators will prompt conversation, but participants should come ready to engage and discuss.

You’re Invited

It is our hope that this series of charrettes will feel like everything that we love about working within the academy: the open sharing of ideas for the sake of bettering our society. If the imagery of intellectuals sitting in a cafe comes to mind, that would be accurate – only the cafe is Zoom.

We hope that you will join us for as many of the charrettes as you are able and that your ideas will contribute to the design of a more religiously diverse and pluralistic future for higher education.

Charrette One: Religious Identity as a Bridge Across Polarized America

February 7th, 2022, 4 pm ETAsma T. Uddin (Aspen Institute) and George Yancey, PhD, (Baylor University)

In this opening charrette, George Yancey (Baylor University) and Asma Uddin (Aspen Institute) will explore how religious identity can sometimes transcend, and thus serve as a bridge across, these partisan divides. Drawing from their experience, they will examine 1) how the frame of “religious liberty” can unite conservative Christians and religious minorities; and 2) how shared religious commitments can provide a platform for interracial engagement and reconciliation.

Charrette Two: Stories of the Difference a Relationship Makes (and Bridges)

February 24th, 2022,  3:30 pm ETPeter Felten, PhD (Elon University), Leo M. Lambert, PhD (Elon University), and Marion Larson, PhD (Bethel University)

In this interactive charrette, Drs. Peter Felten (Elon University), Leo Lambert (Elon University), and Marion Larson (Bethel University) will invite participants to share and reflect on their own personal stories of (collegiate) relationships that have shaped how they engage difference.  Drawing from this collective experience, the conversation will transition to co-imagining how to build campus structures – policies, events, programs – that deliberately seed and nurture relational networks that transcend deep difference.

Charrette 3: Courageous Crossings

February 28th, 2022, 1 pm ETKevin Brown (Spring Arbor University), Tina Grace (Bridging the Gap), Meredith Raimondo (Oberlin College), and Jonathan Zimmerman (University of Pennsylvania)

This charrette will examine two such programs as an invitation to both adoption and adaptation. The first, “Bridging the Gap: Dialogue across Difference,” brought together students from Oberlin College in Ohio – known as a bastion of liberal thinking, where students are frequently dismissed as elite, intolerant “snowflakes” – and students at Spring Arbor University – a private, Christ-centered, liberal arts school in Michigan, whose students are labeled as conservative, intolerant evangelicals. The second program, "Politics in the Age of Trump: Speaking Across Our Differences," featured a collaboration between Cairn University, a Christian university outside Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Charrette 4: Struggling to Embrace Diversity: Presidential Reflections on Institutional Shortcomings

March 9th, 2022, 3:30 pm ET —  Marjorie Hass (The Council of Independent Colleges), Mary Hinton (Hollins University), Omar Qureshi (Zaytuna College), and Carl Strikwerda (Elizabethtown College, Emeritus)

Join Presidents Marjorie Hass (The Council of Independent Colleges), Mary Hinton (Hollins University), Omar Qureshi (Zaytuna College) and Carl Strikwerda (Elizabethtown College, Emeritus) as they explore the history and missteps of institutional efforts to embrace diversity, with a focus on the curriculum and campus life outside the classroom. In conversation with other college and university presidents past and present, this charrette will consider how critical interfaith engagement with – rather than glossing over – the religious and institutional history of our schools is essential to building more inclusive institutions.

About Interfaith Youth Core:

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IFYC works in higher education, partnering with U.S. colleges and universities to make interfaith cooperation a vital part of the college experience, and ultimately a positive force in our society. IFYC believes that a less divided and more pluralistic future requires new leaders at its core. When they leave college equipped with the vision, knowledge, and skills to positively engage difference, our religiously diverse democracy can and will flourish.

This project was made possible in whole through the support of a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the John Templeton Foundation.

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