Project Develops Case Studies on Multi-Religious America

BOSTON — Whether a controversy over the development of an Islamic Center near Ground Zero, or the addition of Diwali to the school calendar in Burlington, Vermont, the dilemmas that arise in multi-religious America require new methods for teaching and learning about religion. Through its Case Study Initiative, the Pluralism Project at Harvard University is exploring how this time-tested pedagogical method is uniquely suited to religious and theological studies.

Using the issues that arise in the contexts of civil society, public life, and religious communities as basic texts, case studies engage participants in active learning, which research has shown is more effective in teaching critical thinking skills than lecture-based learning alone. Through partnerships with other institutions, scholars, and organizations, the Pluralism Project is currently developing and test-teaching an expansive set of case studies on multi-religious America.

This year, the Pluralism Project hosted its first-ever summer fellowship program to develop new cases for the classroom and to adapt existing cases for use in community-based settings. Four doctoral-level fellows and two community associates participated in field research and case writing on issues such as: the challenges of food for an interfaith residential program on a college campus in California; the workplace discrimination experienced by a turbaned Sikh after 9/11 in NYC; the controversy over holiday decorations in a public school in rural Vermont; the protracted battle between Native peoples and their neighbors over offshore wind turbines in Massachusetts; and post-9/11 challenges faced by Muslims and Sikhs across the United States.

The Pluralism Project, directed by Dr. Diana L. Eck, is a 20-year-old research endeavor into the ever-changing religious landscape of the United States. Our mission is to help Americans engage with the realities of religious diversity through research, outreach, and the active dissemination of resources.

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