I did read your piece in Conversations and enjoyed it very much. You are the right person for the job, but I wondered how many Jesuit places were willing to go that route.
I will cut and paste below a copy of a grant proposal developed by some of us here, for which we have received funding to begin next year. You may find it interesting as an example of extending the classroom outward, facilitating encounters, and conversations in all sorts of directions, as well as developing the Jesuit identity here as one that takes all religions very seriously.
There is a need for a course that specifically addresses religious pluralism and therein deals with the problems that such pluralism generates for traditional faith and doctrine. Especially when these other religions are not just dismissed but appreciated and found impressive, though even the sheer number and variety (and similarity) of religions raises questions - which are on the tongues of our students. It would seem to be an area in which theology has some responsibility let alone a contribution to make. Perhaps your work would encourage something along these lines.
Best wishes, and good luck! Catherine
April 20, 2000
TO: Technology Committee, Center for Multicultural Learning, and the Bannan Institute
From : Catherine Bell
Gregory Sharkey SJ
Re: Application for grant assistance
PROJECT TITLE: Local Religion Project
The Local Religion Project is a five-year project to establish better relations with local religious communities in the Bay Area, which is particularly rich in its cultural plurality. While we have long drawn on them to provide "field" experiences for students, we now see the potential for more. While our concerns are first of all pedagogical, we are also convinced that the University's mission and resources make it particularly well-suited to play a more dynamic role in the religious life of this area. Many ethnically-defined religious communities have few bridges linking them to other religious group; yet they routinely welcome neutral opportunities to let others know what they are about. The particularly rapid increase in cultural diversity in recent years among our faculty, our students, and our local communities makes it all the more important to develop new channels of communication and new forums for conversation. Santa Clara University is well poised to be a type of meeting ground for these communities, that is, an educational arena within which to hold conversations about religious and cultural diversity. In this context, the University could attempt to "model" the steps beyond mere religious tolerance, namely, intellectual and empathic interest in learning about one's neighbors and understanding how best to create a metacommunity that thrives on diversity.
Faculty teaching the full spectrum of religious traditions -- Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism -- have met to plan this project. Some faculty from the History Department have been involved in parts of these discussions and have added to our embryonic database. The Asian Studies Program is particularly interested in supporting this project since it must help its minors find appropriate entries into Asian-language speaking communities in order to conduct locally-based research projects.
In the past, outreach efforts involving local religious communities have been solely through individual faculty initiatives, which meant that they demanded a great deal of time gathering information and making logistical plans - all with little or no institutional support. For example, one professor paid significant out of pocket sums for the offerings needed in a Buddhist puja ceremony that a Sri Lankan temple performed for our students. The Asian Studies Program later reimbursed the professor, but it does not have the resources to continue the practice. Another professor has been making personal monetary donations every year to some establishments in order to "thank" them for the burden of SCU students descending on them.
In addition, we are beginning to experience another problem. As the number of faculty interested in using field trips has grown, we are becoming more concerned that too many students may be sent, and perhaps inadequately chaperoned, to places that are not always ready to accommodate them. Hence, we want to develop a mechanism for coordinating fieldtrips among faculty as well as provide some assistance to those institutions who are gracious enough to act as resources for our students.
The pedagogical value of these outreach programs are significant. Improved data, relationships and coordination will not only make it easier to have students visit and a few conduct research projects, they will also enable us to teach religion and culture in ways that tie our dry words to the real world around our students. Often our students are interested in 'other' religions as something of an abstraction, remaining too uncomfortable with real difference to engage their neighbors. Yet we have seen how these trips enable students to overcome such barriers and suddenly experience the exhilaration of shared humanity. This inspires us to try to figure out how to do these parts of our courses better. Increasingly, the study of other religions in the classroom is being shaped by the presence of students from these religions, who have grown up in local communities and often felt marginal in the larger Christian culture. When a course involves this type of outreach, such students become important educators and cultural translators, even though they readily admit to benefiting personally from formal study of their own traditions. We see the Local Religion Project as having important and direct influence on the attitudes toward diversity among our students.
One type of model for part of what we would like to do is Harvard University's Pluralism Project, one stage of which was the production of the CD Rom, "On Common Ground: World Religions in America." The accompanying website (www.fas.harvard.edu/~pluralism/) has been a useful contribution to educators and students of religion. Professor Diana Eck, who led this project, has won much acclaim and at least one humanitarian award. While Eck's project is a type of electronic encyclopedia of religion in America, our database will focus just on the Bay Area, with information that acts as a prelude to a real visit.
At this time we have an embryonic website -- http://www.students.engr.scu.edu/~sshah0/Asian -- but the bulk of our database is still contained a pair of heavy binders. Our information is currently focused primarily on Asian religions, which is of course one of the fastest growing segments of the local religious scene. However, we want all traditions represented and thus anticipate gathering information for Christian and Jewish places of worship.
I. In the first year of this project, we want to make real progress in compiling an effective database of local temples, churches and synagogues, with enough information for professors to be able to decide on venues, contact the right person for a personal exchange, and be made aware of newspaper accounts or other sources of information on the site. We can hire several students (3-4 depending on how much they can work) to do this work, which will require a scanner and a place where students can work and have access to the university web site. In addition, we are requesting institutional support for the costs of class visits and donations.
II. In the second year, aside from further work on the database and website, we plan to work out a system for better coordination among faculty using the database and making fieldtrips. This may well involve a modification of our web site, so that faculty can sign up for particular locales each quarter.
This second year is a good time to launch at least one new course in the Religious Studies Dept, entitled "Religion in the Bay Area," which will be designed to bring in local religious leaders and take students out to specific places.
III. In the third year of the project, we would like to work at arranging for students to pursue research projects in various religious venues. This will depend upon building up a fair degree of trust and ease.
We also anticipate further work on the database. In addition, there are plans for another new course in the department that would make use these newly organized field opportunities, that is, "Buddhism in America," co-taught by professors Bell, Peters and Starkey.
IV. In the fourth year of this project, we plan to convene a small Community-University Conference that will invite local religious leaders to campus, with some as speakers and perhaps a recognizable authority or two. This conference would formalize our recognition of these religious communities as valuable 'teachers', not just resources, heighten their sense of relationship to the university and experiment with this form of public forum for issues of religious and cultural diversity.
There are various sources of outside funding that might be interested in such a conference, like the Wabash Center for Teaching Religion, the Association for Asian Studies, and the American Academy of Religion, etc.
V. In the fifth year, having routinized upkeep of the database and faculty coordination system, we see real value in being able to publish a brief electronic newsletter to be sent twice a year to the temples, church and synagogues in the area with whom we have or are developing relationships. The newsletter could convey SCU events as well as significant ones in these local communities, not only acting as a forum for communication about each other but also as a material reminder of the links established by other aspects of the project..
Needless to say, the timing of various components of this project might change as we get underway and encounter fresh concerns or opportunities. For example, it might prove to be useful to begin the newsletter earlier or think in terms of several mini conferences. However, we have deliberately staged this project in long, careful segments. We are aware of many problems that will beset efforts to have better relationships with local religious communities, from reasonable fears on their part that we intend to exploit them, to requests to sponsor people legitimately concerned about their immigrant status. It is necessary to proceed slowly, thoughtfully and flexibly with the whole project..
BUDGET (for one year)
2000-01 Salaries for students with web knowledge and the ability to work with local communities:
3 people X $12 per hr X 5 hrs/wk X 30 wks. = $5,400 Benefits for this period: 127.50 $5527.50
Travel expenses (researchers and professors) $300
Cost of a scanner and web fees $750
Donations and honoraria $500
Each year the above faculty will issue a report on the work of the Local Religion Project to its funding agencies and to the Provost's office. |However, in the 3rd year, and prior to use of further funding, we will ask for independent evaluation by a team of people drawn from different parts of the campus and community, with specific concern for the impact of this project on local religious institutions, the integration of the project in courses, and the contribution of the project to multicultural dialogue on campus.
We are applying to the Technology Committee, the Center for Multicultural Learning, and the Bannan Institute for help in funding the first year of this project. We have not asked for specific sums from each group, but assume that the Technology Committee might agree to cover the cost of the scanner and web fees (approximately $750), the Center Multicultural Learning might fund the rest of the first year, while the Bannan Institute might fund a subsequent year. However, the grant agencies might have better ideas for how best to award or allocate funds.
The Local Religion Project is a five-year project to improve relations with local religious communities. The initial stage of this project is to compile an effective database of information on local churches, temples, synagogues and other sites of worship so as to facilitate pedagogically useful field trips and to enable the University to serve as a type of clearinghouse for community information. Subsequent years will bring more emphasis on student research projects, a small conference bringing local religious leaders to campus, and a newsletter to disseminate information about the culturally diverse religious life of the Bay Area.
Created: September 2, 2000 Updated: September 2, 2000