Global Scholars Study U.S. Religions
By Bill Schlotter
American studies scholars from around the world are at UC Santa Barbara this summer studying the religious diversity of the United States and finding out firsthand how people with differing beliefs can coexist.
The program that brought them to campus is the “Study of the U.S. Institute on Religious Pluralism,” and was developed by the Department of Religious Studies. It is one of 10 university programs around the country funded by the U.S. Department of State, which invites foreign scholars to learn about aspects of American life.
Institute participants represent 18 countries: Argentina, Armenia, Bulgaria, The People’s Republic of China, The Congo, Egypt, India, Italy, Jordan, Nigeria, Pakistan, The Philippines, Romania, Russia, Slovakia, Tunisia, Turkey, and Uruguay.
“Religious pluralism is increasingly a global challenge,” said Institute Academic Director Wade Clark Roof, professor of religious studies. He added that the visitors “are finding out how Americans of different faiths get along with one another.”
The institute runs through Aug. 1 and includes field trips to Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.
“We want to look at how religion can contribute to a civil society,” Roof said. “And we also want to look at how religion can contribute to democratic ideals, such as respect for others, freedom, and equality, all of which have their roots in religious traditions.”
The field trips help the scholars understand the breadth of religious diversity in the U.S. Depending upon how one counts splinter groups, between 200 and 2,000 religions are practiced in this country, Roof said.
“Not only do the participants learn about the U.S., but the faculty and students at UCSB have the opportunity to glimpse a bit of culture from 18 distinct nations,” said project director Holly Grether, a graduate student in religious studies. “It is amazing to experience the coming together of some of the world’s best religious studies scholars.”