Public Scholars Project

Public Scholars Project American Academy of Religion AAR
The Public Scholars Project is a joint initiative of the American Academy of Religion and the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute. Through seminars and other resources, the Public Scholars Project equips scholars of religion to effectively communicate in the public sphere and foster religious literacy.

Media literacy TraininG

In the following online and onsite programs of the Public Scholars Project, participants will receive media literacy training, designed to help them hone their skills at communicating with a variety of publics (e.g., fellow residents, the electorate, public officials, journalists) in a variety of settings (e.g., social media, news, public events, community gatherings). Modes of public engagement may include, but is not limited to, effective use of Social Media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn) and Video & Audio (e.g., YouTube, podcasting), as well as engagement with Journalists (interviewing techniques for print, radio, television; writing op-eds and letters to the editor) and Community Groups (public officials and educational, civic, business, and religious groups). The following programs are designed to help AAR members cultivate their media literacy.


WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2016  |  12 pm to 12:45 pm |  Free Webinar

Join members of the AAR’s Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion for a discussion about the various ways scholars of religion use media to communicate to the public about religious studies. In this episode, participants consider the opportunities, responsibilities, and challenges of being a “public scholar” at different stages and locations in one’s career.


FRIDAY, October 14, 2016  |  12 PM TO 12:45 PM |  FREE WEBINAR

Scholars of religion explore effective ways to use social media to communicate to the public about religious studies. In this webinar, participants will discuss how to increase public engagement through social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs and LinkedIn) and video and audio platforms (e.g., YouTube and podcasting).


Friday, November 18, 2016, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm | San Antonio, Texas, USA
Cost: $40 Professionals, $10 Students

“Will there be a penalty for being public?” ask emerging scholars of religion. “Will there be a penalty for not being public?” ask established scholars. During this training program, participants will scrutinize different approaches to being public, such as engaging the media, using social media, and publishing in non-traditional venues. Through a series of exercises, participants will explore the opportunities and pitfalls of three roles that scholars of religion often play when seeking to contribute to the public good: scholar as activist, commentator and policy specialist.


Civic Literacy Training

Participants in the Public Scholars Project also have the opportunity to engage in rigorous, graduate-level training to cultivate their civic literacy. The purpose is prepare AAR members to become experts about the civic and legal principles that guide the relationship of religion and government, define protections for the free exercise of religion, and provide a civic framework for living among people of all religions and none.


Unfortunately, many scholars of religion receive little or no civic education about the history and significance of constitutional and human right protections to freedom of religion or belief. As a result, scholars can mislead the public about the constitutional role of religion in public life, contribute to confusion about the meaning of church-state separation, and fuel misperceptions about the limits of free exercise of religion. To address this gap in preparation for civic and religious leadership, the Religious Freedom Center is currently partnering with the American Academy of Religion to forge a shared understanding of the place of religion in public life and work together to sustain America’s bold experiment in living with our deepest differences.

Graduate Courses & Certificate Programs

Thanks to a generous grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, the Religious Freedom Center is currently offering scholarships for members of the American Academy of Religion to enroll in the following blended learning courses. Applicants admitted to the degree programs at our partner schools may be eligible to receive an accredited graduate certificate in Religion and Public Life. The certificate program consists of the following five courses:

  • REL 100 Foundations of Religious Freedom in the United States
  • REL 200 Religious Liberty and Contemporary American Public Life
  • REL 300 Religion and News Media
  • REL 400 The Human Right to Freedom of Religion or Belief
  • REL 500 Independent Study and Capstone Project

In the final semester-long course, a student will engage in a series of one-on-one advising sessions with a member of our faculty. The student will research, design and implement a capstone project with the goal of engaging religious communities and civic organizations in their region. The capstone projects are intended to create a halo effect in that not only will the students benefit from their training in constitutional and human rights, but so will the communities that they serve. These advanced training programs are designed to equip scholars of religion to more effectively communicate in the public square about issues of religion and public life, and thus to foster broader religious and legal literacy.

Project Designers

The Pubic Scholars Project is an initiative of the American Academy of Religion’s Committee on the Public Understanding of Religion, chaired by Michael Kessler (Chair 2013-2016). Committee members include Erik Owens, Ayesha Chaudhry, Mara Willard, Simeon Illesanmi, Emma Tomalin, and Steve Herrick (AAR Staff Liaison). The project leads for the Public Scholars Project are Erik Owens, associate director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life, Boston College, and  Nate Walker, executive director of the Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum Institute.