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New Initiative Takes International Approach to Studying Faith in the Public Sphere

Bretherton, Moosa-led project includes graduate course and speaker series

From the role of Islam in the Arab Spring to the intersection of faith and politics in the U.S. presidential election, the bridge between religion and public life is of growing interest to scholars.  This spring, a new Duke initiative will take a fresh approach to the effort and seek to build a bridge between academics and people of faith.

The Religions and Public Life initiative at Duke is a collaboration among the Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, Divinity School and Kenan Institute for Ethics. Led by Duke faculty members Luke Bretherton and Ebrahim Moosa, the initiative includes a newly designed graduate seminar course and speaker series.

"Part of the role of the initiative is to raise a flag and create a space within the university to foster discussion of religion in the public sphere that is not housed in any particular department, where people from different constituencies can come together," says Bretherton, professor of theological ethics at the Divinity School. "We hope to build connections between scholars and religious communities that will in the future expand across the region."

The new course, "A Paradoxical Politics? Religions, Poverty, & Re-Imagining Citizenship in a Globalizing World," will touch on faith, politics, and economics through examples such as the roles of Islamic political parties in the Arab Spring and of Pentecostalism in creating islands of social care in the favelas of Brazil. In addition to Bretherton and Moosa, guest lecturers from various disciplines across campus will address issues such as public health, religious beliefs and environmental activism, poverty and race and changing religious demographics in the face of globalization.

The inter-faith project will be international in perspective. Moosa, professor of religion and Islamic studies, said was moved by the inter-faith prayer services held on campus in the wake of the 2001 9/11 attacks. He hopes that students will find new ways to engage a Western audience on topics related to Muslim life so that "the resources, specialists, and spread of the discipline of Islamic studies can overcome the lack of broader public knowledge on Muslim society and culture."

The speaker series has attracted experts such as Jose Casanova of the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs at Georgetown University, Ruth Marshall of the University of Toronto, Peter van der Veer of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity at Gottingen, and Susan Holman of the Global Health Institute at Harvard University.

More information on the course and public talks can be found online on the Kenan Institute website.