Research team publishes preliminary findings on teaching methods in interreligious studies

Brian Pennington and Amy Allocco are joined by faculty from the Twin Cities to identify best practices in a new teaching and research field.

In the uncertain days of mid-March, as Elon students and faculty left for Spring Break with no clarity about when they might return to campus, visitors to campus from Minnesota universities were also departing nervously for their homes, having just completed a set of consultations and presentations associated with a research grant for studying how a new academic field called “interreligious studies” is being taught at universities in the United States. (Read more about the grant here).

Faculty from the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul and Augsburg University in Minneapolis had come to Elon to conduct a site visit hosted by Amy Allocco, associate professor of religious studies, and Brian Pennington, professor of religious studies and director of Elon’s Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society, who are the other members of the research team working with a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion. Through interviews and visits to departments and centers, research team members collected information about Elon programs such as the Multifaith Scholars, the Interreligious Studies minor, Truitt Center, and Kernodle Center for Civic Life. They wanted to better understand how these programs are helping to deliver one of the country’s most robust initiatives to make multifaith education a component of intercultural learning at Elon and to pursue research and teaching that examines the intersections of religious communities and traditions.

In succeeding months, as it became clear that the coronavirus would have long term effects on higher education and the murders of George Floyd and others ignited national outrage, the team’s summer plan to convene in Chicago to consult with the nonprofit Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and begin to write up the grant’s results was shelved. Instead, the research team turned to reassessing the future of interreligious studies in light of the “twin pandemics” of the summer of 2020: systemic racism and COVID-19. IFYC has published its preliminary reflections on what has been learned about how interreligious studies is taught nationally and how these recent national traumas might and should shape the future of the emerging field of study.

“In our discussions about how to move our grant on effective interreligious pedagogies forward, we realized that addressing them and confronting the ways that they are intertwined WAS the way forward. Indeed these two pandemics call us to ‘the fierce urgency of now,'” the authors wrote, quoting Martin Luther King, Jr.

Team members are currently drafting a final report for publication. In the meantime, a summary of their preliminary findings on IFYC’s Interfaith America website is available here.