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The context: We have used this activity in both undergraduate and seminary classes on religious diversity and interfaith engagement; it could also be used in an introductory religion course with a unit or discussion focused on religious diversity, pluralism, or interfaith engagement.

The pedagogical purpose: Using news articles from current events as case studies in interreligious tension or cooperation, students identify the complex ways that religious diversity plays out in a given situation, analyze the responses of various actors in such situations, and demonstrate application of theory to concrete situations.

Description of the strategy: Finding the case. We begin this activity by selecting a news article that highlights the complexities of religious diversity. We have found a New York Times article about Muslim workers in Nebraska to be particularly useful (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/us/16immig.html), but have also used stories pulled from that day's news when relevant pieces have been available.

Analyzing the story. We ask students to begin by telling the story of “what happened,” in small groups if the classroom is larger. In the NYT story, students identify all the key actors (the Somali refugees, the Latino immigrants, the mayor, the white community members). We ask them to identify the intersecting issues at play: how are class, nationality, immigration status, and religion all a part of this story?

Crafting a response. Finally, students work in small groups to explore how, if they were a part of the community in the case, they would respond in order to foster religious pluralism or interfaith cooperation. We ask them to imagine that the situation happened nearby and community tensions were impacting campus – what might they do to ease tensions? Students in seminary courses are asked to imagine what they might preach on Sunday morning in this scenario.

Why it is effective: Concepts like interfaith engagement or religious pluralism can seem abstract to students, applicable only in places facing outright religious conflict. Asking students to respond to a situation like the one in the NYT article helps them to explore the concrete and multiple applications of these concepts in a home setting. Additionally, by working together in groups to come up with a shared solution, students must contend with the complexity of applying these ideas in real situations. Students’ responses can thus serve as a formative assessment tool to check student learning.