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December 4, 2000

Emory receives grant for teaching,
learning about religious conflict

By Elaine Justice

The religion department has received a three-year grant from the Wabash Center to develop new ways of teaching and learning about the origins, meaning and consequences of religious conflict. The $21,000 grant will be matched by university funds adding up to a total of $50,000 for the project.

“We hope to develop an entirely new model for teaching religion through its conflicts,” said Laurie Patton, associate professor of religion and department chair.

The grant will be used to support a variety of new initiatives, among them:
• a graduate student conference on religion and conflict, which will include training on teaching approaches to the topic;

• teaching and developing mediation skills for undergraduates and community partners;

• a new departmental course on religion and conflict offered on a yearly basis;

• support of a religion and conflict fellow; and

• workshops for other departments, professional societies and other universities on teaching about the meaning and end of religious conflict.

The organization behind the grant, the Wabash Center, is located at Wabash College in Crawfords-ville, Ind. It provides programs for faculty and makes grants to religion departments and theological schools for projects that will enhance teaching and learning.

In keeping with Year of Reconciliation, the department will host a University-wide seminar this spring on religion and conflict, led by David Little of Harvard University Divinity School, a nationally known expert in the field of human rights and religion in international affairs.

According to Patton, the initiative on religion and conflict grows directly out of nationally recognized efforts of faculty across the department, including Theophus Smith’s research on conflict resolution and violence reduction; Bobbi Patterson’s work on violence and the body and with the new minor in violence studies; David Blumenthal’s recent writings on acts of conscience within the Holocaust; Deborah Lipstadt’s work on violence, history and Holocaust denial; Eric Reinders’ research on iconoclasm and religious conflict; and Wendy Farley’s recent publications on theology and domestic violence, among others.

But good teaching doesn’t end with the content itself, Patton said, adding that religion faculty already are committed to innovative approaches to teaching, including:
• theory-practice learning, in which students integrate rigorous classroom content with experiences outside the classroom;

• team teaching, which encourages collegiality and an interdisciplinary approach to religious study; and

• a focus on violence reduction, especially the question: Why does religion sometimes appear to be the “cure” for social violence, and yet, at the same time, its cause?

“We are assuming that ‘religious conflict’ per se is not necessarily to be condemned,” Patton said, “[since] conflict between religious traditions may in fact be a fruitful thing. We are also assuming that religious conflict can contain the seeds of religious violence and hinder human flourishing.”

Given these contrasting qualities, religion faculty aim to explore not only end of religious conflict itself, but the goals inherent in such conflict, Patton said. Among the questions they will pose: What are the seeds of the resolution of conflict within each religious tradition? Are there ways of resolving religious conflict wherein certain ends could be clarified and met?

“While there are some very good comparative works just published in the field of religion and conflict, Patton said, “what we’ve discovered in our learning to date is that there’s a lot more to be done.”


Back to Emory Report Dec. 4, 2000