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 Freedom Forum 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.

Free Webinars

Upcoming Webinar

To be announced.

2018-19 webinar schedule

Presenters will be announced one month before each webinar. To receive information about upcoming webinars, please sign up for the Religious Freedom Center’s e-newsletter.

  • September: Religious Studies and Immigration: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public
  • October: Religious Studies in Social Media: Promising Venues for Public Scholarship
  • November: AAR Annual Meeting: Special Session hosted by CPUR
  • December: Religious Studies, Sexuality and Religious Freedom: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public
  • January: Religious Studies and Government: Promising Venues for Public Scholarship
  • February: Religious Studies and the #MeToo Movement: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public
  • March: Religious Studies and Religious Communities: Promising Venues for Public Scholarship
  • April: Religious Studies and Racial Justice: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public
  • May: Break
  • June: Religious Studies and Businesses: Promising Venues for Public Scholarship
  • July: Religious Studies and Pop Culture: Tips for Sharing Scholarship with the Public

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.


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.

The Problem & The Plan

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

The Religious Freedom Center is offers the opportunity for members of the American Academy of Religion to enroll in the following blended learning courses. Participants admitted to the degree programs at our partner schools may be eligible to receive an accredited graduate certificate in Religion and Public Life. Our program consists of the following four 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

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, whose members currently include:

  • Erik Owens (chair 2017-2019)
  • Mara Willard
  • Terrence Johnson
  • Simeon Illesanmi
  • Evan Berry
  • Asma Afsaruddin

Marion Pierre serves as the AAR staff liaison. The project leads for the Public Scholars Project are Erik Owens, director of the international studies program and associate professor of the practice in theology at Boston College, and Ben Marcus, religious literacy specialist at the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute.