Religion and conflict program to continue without grant

08-28-09 Religious
John Carlson, assistant professor and project director for the certificate and religion program at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict, has made sure the programs started with funding from a corporate grant three years ago aren’t going to disappear anytime soon.(Damien Maloney | The State Press)
Published On:
Friday, August 28, 2009
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Though corporate-sponsored funding will end this academic year for ASU’s “Teaching and Talking about Religion in Public” project, its creators said the curriculum isn’t going anywhere.

A certificate in religion and conflict through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences was offered for the first time during the 2008-2009 academic year, and the project’s team is now working to improve and expand the certificate, even as funding runs out.

A $200,000 grant was awarded to the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict (CSRC) through the Ford Foundation’s “Difficult Dialogues Initiative” in February 2006.

After two years, the CSRC was able to renew the grant, which the center used to create a four-year program focused on building and responding to religious discourse.

John Carlson, project coordinator and assistant professor of religious studies, said he would like to see a core class offered within the interdisciplinary certificate in the final stages of development.

“We want to bring the pieces together with a core class and invite faculty to take ownership of the program,” he said. “We’re in the process of refining, deepening and strengthening the program.”

The Ford Foundation fund is intended to assist American academic institutions that seek to bridge community gaps through open, intellectual dialogue.

Of the 675 institutions that applied for the grant in 2006, only 27 received the award, according to the “Difficult Dialogues” Web site.

Currently, only 16 schools receive funding.

Other honored institutions include Yale University, Columbia University and the University of Michigan.

Carlson said curriculum that doesn’t shy away from religion is important at modern universities.

“The secular model of higher education has not always prepared us for talking about religion,” he said.

Personal religion has become a taboo subject in many classrooms, Carlson said, adding that he questions the mentality behind avoiding the topic of religion.

“We care about religion,” he said. “Why aren’t we talking about it at an institution committed to intellectual dialogue?”

Although the “Teaching and Talking about Religion and Conflict” program will lose Ford’s funding at the end of this academic year, the project’s team said the certificate will continue because of growing student interest in the project.

Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict Linell Cady said six students have already graduated with the certificate and interest in the program is building.

“Students are becoming more aware of different values from around the world,” Cady said. “With that awareness, we expect that more and more students will be interested in the certificate, regardless of what college they’re in.”

As project coordinator, Carlson said he agrees with the certificate’s broad application.

“The curriculum is designed for anyone coming into contact with religion, through a range of professions beyond just government, policy and law,” Carlson said.

In addition to creating a certificate, the “Teaching and Talking about Religion in Public” project created a series of faculty workshops.

“The faculty seminars went beyond teaching and into understanding religion,” Carlson said.

Overall, Carlson said he believes the program’s success lies in its ability to enhance communication.

“Religion can be a constructive force for conflict resolution,” he said.

Amy Lukau, a double major molecular biosciences and biotechnology and religious studies senior who is also pursuing the certificate in religion and conflict, said studying religion can help people better move beyond cultural walls.

“Now, in our globalized economy, and now that the world is shrinking thanks to cyberspace, people from different backgrounds are coming together and there are certain cultural misunderstandings between them,” she said.

Lukau said studying religion and conflict can help clear up the misunderstandings.

“In order for you to be culturally competent, you need to be aware of diverse worldviews,” she said.

Reach the reporter at jessica.testa@asu.edu.