By Zoya Zia
On Thursday, Jan. 26 and Friday, Jan. 27, religious studies scholars, academics, professors and students participated in a series of discussions about Religions Texas, a joint initiative by the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at Austin and the Institute for Diversity and Civic Life to “document and map the geographic, social, and cultural space that is Texas.”
In their afternoon discussions, they were able to identify major issues facing the community. Several panelists engaged in an interesting dialogue that acknowledged why religious studies continues to matter to those inside and outside the academic sphere.
Director Tiffany Puett represented IDCL. Other panelists included Ruben Dupertuis of Trinity University and Joseph Laycock of Texas State University. The event was moderated by Steve Friesen from UT.
At the final roundtable, the panelists and audience began considering ways to resonate bigger themes of religious literacy with the public. There was a general consensus on the need to fill in an education gap.
From students in high school to adults in the professional world, not enough is known about different faiths. This ignorance can lead some to isolate certain religious groups as the “other.” Misconceptions further worsen when individuals are unwilling to educate themselves.
Providing general information about different religions can address the issue. However, more must be done to promote coexistence in specific contexts. Those going into fields like social work and health care may participate in professional development programs to understand how to interact with other religions. These “less vague” approaches are increasingly necessary.
As for students in high school and college, the challenge to interact with other religions is more difficult. Bringing religious leaders in for lectures could lead to generalizations. Leaders with scholarly backgrounds may be better suited to speak at schools.
Still, religion is not merely understood through books or multiple choice exams. Undergraduate students should take part in fieldwork that exposes them to different communities. Research experiences will shape new, interpretive perspectives and encourage students to dig deeper.
Religions Texas aims to reach professionals, students, and the wider public. Deconstructing differences helps communities overcome barriers and learn how to learn about one another.
As the state becomes more ethnically and religiously diverse, Religions Texas will highlight this diversity by providing detailed information about who Texans are. Learn more about Religions Texas here.
This conference was made possible by an AAR regional development grant.