Paul L. Caron

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Inazu: DEI Needs Religious Diversity Too

John Inazu (Washington University; Google Scholar), DEI Needs Religious Diversity Too:

InazuEarlier this month, Kelsey Dallas reported on the uncertain future of many interfaith programs on college and university campuses. The current challenge comes from conservative legislatures targeting Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (“DEI”) programs that they see as overly determined by progressive ideology. But these attacks will in many cases pull funding for religious pluralism, too, because “at many schools, the administrators planning race or sexuality-based events are the same people setting up programs on faith.” Meanwhile, other campuses have struggled to initiate interfaith programming in the first place. ...

Higher education today is rightly focused on exposing students to people with diverse beliefs and backgrounds. But regardless of one’s views of the goals or methods of DEI programming, too many of these initiatives ignore religion. Curricular and extracurricular content on religious diversity is often lacking in our colleges and universities.

As I’ve written elsewhere, I generally find Washington University to be an institution tolerant of religious difference. But tolerance is not the same as understanding. I have more than once come across colleagues and students who lack a basic understanding of religion or awareness of the past and present influence of religion in this country.

Take this striking example that occurred a few years ago. During an academic workshop that I attended, one of the participants made a comment about her uncle, a fundamentalist Christian. Another participant said something like, “I just don’t know any Christians whom I respect intellectually.” This prompted a third participant to offer that he had once met a Christian professor at Yale who seemed pretty smart. And somebody else mentioned Aquinas. At this point in the conversation, I chimed in to suggest that perhaps among the billions of professing Christians on the planet we might find a few more worthy of the intellectual respect of those in higher education.

Universities have an important opportunity to correct misperceptions about religion. But they’ll have to start by welcoming faculty, administrators, and student life staff who have an understanding of and appreciation for religion generally as well as particular religious traditions. Today’s university DEI programs would consider it malpractice to bring in somebody to lead courses or training on race, gender, or sexuality who lacks a nuanced understanding of those topics. We should have the same high standards when it comes to religious diversity.

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Other faith posts by John Inazu:

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