Dr. Craig Steven Wansink is chair of the religious studies department and the Joan P. and Macon F. Brock, Jr. Director of the Center for the Study of Religious Freedom at Virginia Wesleyan College. He also serves as the senior pastor at Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk. He became a Pluralism Project affiliate in 1999, researching the changing religious landscape of Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Interest in interreligious dialogue necessitated by the increased diversity of the region drove the project’s two interrelated goals: the first, being descriptive; the second, comparative. At the time of this research, Dr. Wansink wrote:
The first goal involves mapping the religious landscape of Hampton Roads, Virginia, noting—in particular—the ways in which it has changed since the 1960s. Because of the influence of the Christian Coalition on this part of the country, some mega-churches are examined. Because of the influence of the A.R.E. (Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment), some forms of non-institutionalized spirituality are examined. However, the majority of attention is given to non-Christian religions; particularly Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism. The mapping involves individual synagogues, mosques, and temples, along with other appropriate religious support services (e.g., the Tidewater Jewish Federation, and the Muslim Community of Tidewater). Local minority religious communities which do not have their own centers of worship (e.g., Bahá’í, Pagan, or Messianic Jewish) also are being studied.
The second goal involves an analysis of how non-Christian religious communities in this area have changed, developed, or accommodated in response to the dominant Christian presence; particularly that of the Christian Coalition. The interest is in how minority status has shaped the articulation of theology and the practice of beliefs.
Within the months since this project started, the Christian Coalition has stumbled in significant ways, the senior pastor of a significant mega-church has resigned, two local Muslim women received $125,000 settlements in a local court case involving their wearing veils, and ‘new’ religions in Hampton Roads have reached out to the community in new and unique ways (e.g., a Thai Buddhist community sponsored a summer meditation camp for young boys, the Navy’s Muslim chaplain has developed a brig ministry, Vietnamese Buddhists are sharing religion through a martial arts studio).
As part of this project, Dr. Wansink gave presentations on religious life of Hampton Roads within the community and taught a six-week series entitled “Faith of Our Neighbors: World Religions in Hampton Roads,” which was hosted at Second Presbyterian Church, Norfolk. As this project developed, the need for a broader context led to the development of a website on places of worship around Virginia Wesleyan College and of a brief history of religion in Hampton Roads, focusing, in particular, on the latter part of the 18th century. This historical resource was useful, according to Dr. Wansink, who reported that the earlier context posed “some parallels to contemporary situations.”
Selected Links and Publications
- Faculty website: Dr. Craig Steven Wansink
- Website: Center for the Study of Religious Freedom, Virginia Wesleyan College