December 22, 2011

Dear Friends,

As we celebrate two decades of The Pluralism Project, the frequent controversies that erupt around issues of religious diversity in America remind us that the need for research and education is as critical as ever.

A couple of weeks ago, the Pluralism Project staff spent a “virtual” evening in Dearborn, Michigan. We screened Fordson: Faith, Fasting, and Football along with an episode of TLC’s eight-part reality television series All-American Muslim. The TV series follows five families in Dearborn, MI, as they attend weddings, baby showers, and IftarIftar is “breaking the fast” at the end of each day of the month of Ramadan. After sundown during Ramadan, most Muslims ceremonially break their fast by eating dried dates and soup before the maghreb prayer. Later they may eat a larger meal with relat... dinners, support the local high school football team, and live out their diverse lives as faithful Muslim Americans. As you surely know, this program has attracted national attention in recent weeks. According to a New York Times article, the Florida Family Association accuses the show of  “hiding ‘the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.’” The Muslim families in Dearborn are deemed too “normal” to be an accurate portrayal of the Muslim community. Disappointing as it is to see yet another example of Islamophobic sentiment in the United States, the fact that Lowe’s decided to pull its advertising during All American Muslim as a direct result of this fringe group’s opposition was truly astonishing. Clearly, friends, we have much work left to do.

At the close of another year, it seems appropriate both to look back at the Pluralism Project’s legacy and to look forward to the ways in which the Project continues to provide quality research and educational resources to students, scholars, educators, clergyClergy are the body of ordained men (and in some cases women) who are authorized to perform the priestly, pastoral, or rabbinical duties of the community—as distinct from the laity whom they serve., and civic leaders.

America’s Interfaith Infrastructure: An Emerging Landscape will launch with an interactive website in January 2012. This is the pilot phase of the first major attempt by scholars to map, document, and interpret the growing interfaith movement in the U.S.  This is a social infrastructure as important to our future as bridges and highways. The generous support of the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation made possible the collection of quantitative and qualitative data from twenty cities in the United States. You will soon be able to see the web resource that maps the religious and interfaith landscape of these cities and provides snapshots of some of their many interfaith initiatives and promising practices. As it develops, the website will capture the multi-vocal and dynamic reality of what we call the “emerging interfaith infrastructure” by offering users the opportunity to share their own story of interfaith engagement as a part of an ongoing, online conversation.

On Common Ground: World Religions in America 2.0 is slated to go live in late 2012 as a newly updated web-based resource that will be free of charge. The first edition of On Common Ground was released in 1997 as a CD-ROM that explored world religions in the United States and the issues that arise in the public sphere as a result of religious diversity. While the award-winning pedagogical approach of OCG 1.0 will remain the same in the newest edition, OCG 2.0 will include GIS technology that allows for interactive, content-rich maps of America’s religious diversity. On Common Ground 2.0 has been made possible by the ongoing support of the Lilly Endowment. To read more about On Common Ground 2.0, we invite you to click here for an article that ran in The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions newsletter earlier this month. In it’s CD-ROM form, this valuable educational resource was widely purchased for libraries and schools, but it was expensive. Now in its online form, it will be freely available to everyone who wants access to basic education about religion in America.

The Case Study Initiative continues to engage students in seminaries and theological schools, undergraduate and graduate students, and civic and community leaders in the real-life challenges that arise in the context of a religiously diverse America. This year, in addition to another successful iteration of my course “Case Studies in Multi-Religious America,” we have added to our collection of case studies several cases including “Center of Dispute,” a case study exploring leadership within the Muslim community during the Park51 controversy, and “Invocation or Provocation?,” which offers a glimpse of one Wiccan’s struggle for recognition of her religion in the public arena. We are working on a case on Yoga-Ed, a yogaYoga is a Sanskrit word, deriving from a verb meaning “to yoke” or “to join.” Body and consciousness are joined together in the discipline of yoga. Yoga practice involves ethical restraints, the mastery of bodily postures (called asanas), the cont... course for public schools. I continue to find that case-study teaching is exciting and engaging –both for me and for the students. Join us, and let me know if you would like a syllabus.

You should know that the Pluralism Project is now on Twitter! Follow us @pluralismproj to keep up to date with the latest happenings at the Project and with our partners. You can also find us on Facebook by typing “The Pluralism Project at Harvard University” in the search bar.

As we celebrate twenty years of researching issues of religious diversity in the United States, we give thanks to you, our friends and supporters, for making this work possible. Your generosity allows us to equip citizens with the skills necessary to promote religious pluralism in an increasingly diverse world. Thank you for your continued partnership with us in this work. We are grateful for your sustained support.

All the best,

Diana Eck and The Pluralism Project

P.S. Click here to read one story of the Pluralism Project’s legacy within one family. DavidDavid was the King of Israel (c. 1000 BCE) credited with uniting the many tribes of Israel into a centralized kingdom with Jerusalem as its capital. David is said to have planned for the Temple in Jerusalem, which was subsequently built by his son Solomon... Odell-Scott, a long time Pluralism Project affiliate, and Megan Odell-Scott, a Pluralism Project Internship Program alumna, both research religion in northeast Ohio. They also happen to be father and daughter.