Today the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Institute (RFC) announced a three-year partnership with the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology of Virginia Union University (STVU) to create a national education program for religious and civic leaders. The project, “Educating for Religious Leadership in a Pluralistic Society,” envisions close collaboration among seminaries serving significant populations of African-American students and will help prepare them for the challenges and opportunities of religious, cultural and racial diversity in the United States.
The project is being funded by a generous $450,000 grant to STVU from the Luce Fund for Theological Education, which works to support the development of new models of teaching and learning, research and publication, as well as leadership and educational program design.
“We are thankful for the support of the Luce Foundation and our partnership with the Religious Freedom Center on this important effort,” says Corey D. B. Walker, vice president of Virginia Union University and dean of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology. “This initiative will provide a unique platform to educate a new generation of faith leaders about the complex history and continuing relevance of religious freedom in our society.”
In partnership with the RFC, STVU will build a coalition of 10 theological schools that serve African American students, including Howard University School of Divinity, Hood Theological Seminary, Interdenominational Theological Center, Payne Theological Seminary and Shaw University Divinity School. Together, they will offer a week-long intensive course titled “African Americans and Religious Freedom.” This blended learning course designed for graduate seminary students will critically engage the contentious politics of race and religious freedom in American public life. Particular attention will be given to the how and in what ways power, violence, identity and pluralism form and frame the discourse of religious freedom across time and space. The course will feature a team of scholars and professional experts actively engaged in addressing these issues in multiple contexts.
The collaboration between STVU and the RFC began in 2015 with the recognition that the United States is one of the most religiously diverse societies in the world and that the continued expansion of religious diversity requires Americans of all backgrounds to understand one another, negotiate differences with civility and find new ways to work together for the common good.
Historically, many religious leaders receive little education about the significance of the religious liberty principles of the First Amendment and too few have meaningful opportunities to engage with people of other religions, worldviews, cultures and traditions. As a result, many leaders misunderstand the role of religion in public life, the constitutional relationship between religion and government and the nature of authentic pluralism in a democratic society.
The RFC’s blended learning curriculum is designed to meet adult learners in their homes, workplaces or schools, by offering interactive online courses that utilize the state-of-the-art facilities at the Newseum in Washington. Additionally, in-person programs allow students to meet religious leaders, build networks of professional contacts and strengthen relationships with people from a broad range of religious, political and cultural backgrounds.
The first program in the partnership will be held at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 29, at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center. “Race, Religious Freedom and the Politics of Belonging” will explore the complex politics of race and religious freedom in our contemporary moment. It is the first in a series of public events highlighting the politics of religious freedom.