The changing religious landscape in the U.S. and the important role that religion plays in contemporary politics require leaders of faith communities to work with religious neighbors, learn to form interfaith coalitions, and foster relations with civic groups for social change.
Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) has received a grant of $350,000 from Luce Foundation to support faculty development, curricular revision, and online continuing educational programs on religious pluralism.
The proposal to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan near Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were destroyed, created a huge controversy. But many people do not know that Muslims have lived in the U.S. for a long time. The earliest Muslims arrived on slave ships from Africa. Today, there are six million Muslims in the U.S., approximately the same number as Jews. In New York, the number of mosques has grown from 10 in 1970 to 100. Los Angeles is the most religiously diverse city of the world. There are 131 Buddhist temples and 58 mosques in Los Angeles County.
Since the Immigrant Act of 1965, many immigrants have brought with them different religious traditions. The Pew Forum Religious Landscape Study conducted in 2008 estimated that the United States is about 78 percent Christian. About 16 percent of American people do not affiliate with religious institutions and 4.7 percent practice a religion other than Christianity.
At EDS, students are introduced to religious pluralism through course work, spiritual practices, and travel study seminars. Members of the faculty engage in interfaith dialogue in their academic guilds and civic coalitions. Study seminars to Mexico, India, Lesotho and South Africa, Cuba have introduced students to religious diversity and various forms of indigenous healing practices. Buddhist meditation has been introduced to members of the EDS community.
The Luce Grant will enable EDS to offer courses on Islam. The Grant will also enable us to share what we are learning at EDS with the wider Episcopal Church and other faith communities. EDS offers online courses, intensive weekend courses, simulcast classes, and webcast live events to educate lay and ordained leaders for God’s mission. The school has established partnerships with several dioceses for life-long education and formation.
In developing this initiative, EDS can draw upon the expertise and support of our alumni/ae. Some of our alumni/ae belong to the Unitarian Universalist Church, which celebrates diversity of belief. Alumnus Anthony Stultz is the founder and director of Blue Mountain Lotus Society, a non-profit organization devoted to sharing the teachings of the Buddha within the context of contemporary life.