Conference focuses on metro Atlanta's religious diversity

Atlanta had a chance to know the world during the 1996 Olympic Games, but how well does the city know itself? Atlantans will have a chance to learn more about their community by exploring the city's many religious faiths and their impact on public life at a conference on "Religious Diversity in Metropolitan Atlanta," on Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 12-13, sponsored by Emory and held at The Carter Center.

"This conference will help people from a variety of faiths to understand the diversity of religious life in Atlanta and initiate a larger discussion about the challenges posed by religious pluralism," said conference co-director Gary Laderman, assistant professor of religion. "We hope that leaders from these communities will reflect on how they can stand united, as Atlantans, in the face of growing social tensions."

The conference is part of a larger Emory study of Atlanta's religious diversity, which began with the July publication of Religions of Atlanta: Religious Diversity in the Centennial Olympic City, a book of essays on the city's many religious groups and movements, edited by Laderman. Conference co-director Nancy Eiesland says that studies of inter-religious dynamics are a growing phenomenon in the South, which has been overwhelmingly Protestant until the last two decades.

"Increasingly, the way to study religion in the South's major cities is not only to look at the broad landscape, but also to focus on what is happening in communities," said Eiesland, assistant professor in the School of Theology. "Bringing together people of different faiths is one way to do that. The next step will be locating and mapping Atlanta's religious groups and identifying variations within religious traditions."

The bottom-up approach works best, says Eiesland, because it can result in real-world solutions. "We're attempting to involve people who have been deliberately looking at religious diversity in order to understand how a study should be structured," Eiesland explained. "If we can answer questions that arise from people's work in the real world, we can provide the intellectual resources that can help improve our life together."

Sessions will include panel discussions, a workshop and a closing dinner and plenary address. Speakers include: Gerald Durley, chair, Concerned Black Clergy; Melissa Fay Greene, author, The Temple Bombing; Imam Plemon T. El-Amin, Majid of Al-Islam, Atlanta; the Rev. Glenna Shepherd, pastor, Christ Covenant Metropolitan Community Church; P. Venugopla Rao, past president, India-American Cultural Association; Blanca Orsini, director, HIV Program for Hispanics, Mercy Mobile Health Care; Carol P. Miller, co-chair, Interfaith Coalition; Jimmy Harper, Regional Chapter of National Council for Christians and Jews; and Ozell Sutton, Atlanta Black/Jewish Coalition.

Admission to conference sessions is free, but registration is required by Oct. 1. For more information, call Nancy Eiesland at 727-6346, or Gary Laderman at 727-4641.

--Elaine Justice

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