The program that brought them here, now in its second year, is titled "Religion in the United States: Pluralism and Public Presence" and was developed by UCSB's Department of Religious Studies in 2002. It is one of 10 university programs around the country funded by the U.S. Department of State's Fulbright American Studies Institute, which seeks to bring foreign scholars to the United States to learn about various aspects of American life.
"Religious pluralism is increasingly a global challenge and we are delighted that Fulbright has funded us for a second year," said Institute Academic Director Wade Clark Roof, chair of the Department of Religious Studies. "Our students are finding out how Americans of different faiths get along with one another."
Institute participants are scholars from universities in 17 countries: Austria, Bangladesh, Brazil, Cameroon, the Czech Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Georgia, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, Romania, Russia, the Slovak Republic, and Spain.
The Institute began June 23 and runs through Aug. 4 and includes field trips to Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Key focus will be a timely look at how people of different faiths can get along and work toward common goals in a single society.
"We also want to look at how religion can contribute to a civil society," Roof said. "And we 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."
Other topics covered will include the history of religion in the U.S., the demography and sociology of religion, religion and politics, religion and the media, and religion and film.
The field trips are designed to help 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 here, Roof said.
"Religious pluralism in Utah looks very different than in Georgia," said Institute Co-Director and Religious Studies doctoral candidate Shawn Landres. "Members of a majority religion in one region are religious minorities somewhere else, so their social and political positions vary accordingly. It is important for our visiting scholars to explore the deep diversity that characterizes the United States."
Roof said he felt the 2002 program was beneficial to both guests and hosts and he hopes to have similar success this year.
"I hope our scholars will have learned about religion in the United States and that we will have learned a great deal from them," Roof said. " And I hope that we will have all developed a great deal of respect for one another."