On Wednesday, Ocotober 20th, The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFBNP) participated in the State Department’s (STATE) Office of Religion and Global Affairs Religious Literacy, Public Policy and American Schools brown bag event in The Ralph Bunche Library. The event included a panel moderated by Mariam Kaldas (STATE) with panelists Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell (CFBNP) and Benjamin Marcus (Newseum Fellow). Brenda gave remarks on the work of the Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Ben presented his research from his chapter in the forthcoming Oxford Handbook on Religion and America Education. Some of the topics discussed were practicing religious literacy, religious identity formation and how to work with religious communities in conflict settings.
In Ben’s research he highlighted how we all have different understandings of faith and religion. For instance, if a group of people are asked the definition of religion, there would be a myriad of different definitions and one may even say it is undefinable. Religious literacy does not mean you can define every religion, but rather “understand and use the religious terms, symbols, images, beliefs, practices, scriptures, heroes, themes, and stories that are employed in American public life.”
Ben’s research delves further into religious identity and formation and perception of religion. He uses a framework called the “Three B’s”: Belief, Behavior and Belonging to explain how one develops his or her religious identity.
When engaging conflict communities, there are a few steps to address religious identity:
- Listen and ask “What does your religion mean to you?”
- Determine what aspect of religious identity (Belief, Behavior, Belonging), if any, fuels the tension.
- Look for common ground, not necessarily talking about scripture, but what they care about.
Through Brenda’s remarks and Ben’s research, the audience was able to engage in an introspective conversation on religious literacy. Brenda reinforced the value of convening and bringing people together. Ben was able to build upon that foundation by discussing practices to humbly address differences and understand the history behind various religious identities. Finally, questions on topics such as separation of church and state, populism and religion, and secularism were discussed.
It was an informative and reflective event that helped the participants gain a further understanding and direction on discussing religious literacy!