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winter 2018
For excellence in academics

For excellence in academics

Cascade of grants leads to national, international exposure for two professors

What began seven years ago with one grant now has grown into a “cascade of grants” and an equally cascading series of national and international presentations for two Wofford faculty members, Dr. Katherine Janiec Jones, associate professor of religion, and the Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson ’78, Perkins-Prothro Chaplain and Professor of Religion.

In 2011, Wofford and Elon University jointly received a $200,000 grant from the Teagle Foundation titled “Using Assessment Evidence to Improve Programs and Promote Shared Responsibility for Mission-Based Outcomes.” Jones and Robinson engaged with a faculty-staff team from Elon as well as consultants from the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) and the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC). Dr. Ellen Goldey, former professor of biology, wrote the grant proposal and was the principal investigator.

A major focus of the project was to examine Wofford’s “curricular potential in the field of interfaith studies, our co-curricular ethos and campus climate with regard to religious diversity and pluralism, and the general campus mood with regard to intentional movement and growth in this burgeoning field,” Jones says.

“Whether you call it interfaith, religious studies, multifaith or pluralism — each word fits a different context — it all has to do with how people who orient around religion differently can live together productively in a civic space,” Jones explains.

Robinson says gauging the religious climate on college campuses has been difficult not only because there are people who have religious commitments that conflict with others, “but there is an increase in the number of students who identify as spiritual but not religious, which often means ‘I’m leaving’ — or perhaps they have left behind institutionalized religion, but still have beliefs in God or some other power, and they have important questions about meaning.”

Wofford already had laid some groundwork, participating in 2004 in grant-funded research by the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute on “The Spiritual Life of College Students.” The attitude of Wofford students about their spiritual lives was measured as a distinctive cohort, then compared with students at national liberal arts colleges and with all students nationally.

The question was, “How can you actually improve your teaching using this information,” Jones says.

The Teagle grant helped answer that question, creating an assessment tool, “The Pluralism and Worldview Engagement Rubric,” which was highlighted in The Journal of College and Character.

The development of this new tool made Jones and Robinson much-sought-after experts in measuring the immeasurable around the country and beyond, making dozens of presentations and writing articles and book chapters about it. “We are disseminating the fruit of the seeds that were planted by the Teagle grant across many sectors of higher education,” Jones says.

According to Robinson, the rubric is being used at about 100 colleges and universities. A Ph.D. dissertation was done at the University of Southern California on it, and Jones and Robinson both go places to speak about it.

Robinson’s most recent presentation, “The Positive Engagement of Religious Difference,” was in November to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto, Canada. Next year, Jones will be a plenary speaker for the national conference of Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) and the Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVue), and she is an invited participant for a conference at Harvard University, “A Convening on the Case Method,” hosted by The Pluralism Project and funded by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion.

Robinson also co-authored a chapter, “Practical Divinity: Pluralism in a Liberal Arts Community,” based on the rubric, in a book, “Peacemaking and the Prophetic Voice,” with then-Wofford student Erin Simmonds ’15. “She’s now gone on to Ph.D. studies at the University of Chicago. This ties to the student experience as Erin was able to do research as well,” says Robinson, who also now is called on by chaplains at other institutions trying to address the issue of pluralism on their campuses. “One of the cool things about this grant was that it involved both curricular and co-curricular components, and we’re really evaluating the student experience,” he says. “Interfaith is an emerging field of study by itself.”

The success of the Teagle grant, in turn, led to other funding opportunities that benefit Wofford. One from the CIC/NetVue funded the research for Jones’ chapter in the book “Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy,” to be released in December. Her chapter is titled “Reviving Sheila: Listening to the Call of Multiple Religious Belonging.”

Wofford also is participating in the IDEALS Survey, funded by the Mellon Foundation and the Luce Foundation, to research the Wofford Class of 2019, following the students’ religious and spiritual lives from their first year through graduation. “Wofford was one of the first four institutions to pilot this survey that’s now being run at 120 institutions,” Robinson says.

“Higher education needed a credible way of dealing with this area because assessing religion is a tough thing,” he adds. “Before our work, nobody had done anything like it. It was just too tough a question to tackle. It’s hard to do it well without being narrowly sectarian, but I think our research has helped us discover ways of doing it.”

GRANTS, PRESENTATIONS AND PUBLICATIONS THAT HAVE COME FROM THE TEAGLE FOUNDATION GRANT:

One result of Wofford’s participation in a $200,000 Teagle Foundation grant was the creation of a tool to assess interfaith engagement and religious pluralism; in turn, this work led to national and international attention for Dr. Katherine Janiec Jones and the Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson. Here are some examples of presentations, publications and other grants Wofford received or in which the college is participating:

  • “9/11 Changed Things: The (Post-Traumatic) Religious Studies Classroom,” chapter in “Post-Traumatic Public Theology” – Jones
  • “A Wesleyan Theology of Interfaith Engagements,” American University, Washington, D.C. – Robinson, keynote address
  • “Assessing Interfaith Development Using the Pluralism and Worldview Engagement Rubric: A Case Study” publication – cites Jones’ and Robinson’s work
  • “Experiences of Interfaith Cooperation on a United Methodist Liberal Arts Campus,” Called to Be Neighbors: Interfaith Cooperation on United Methodist Campuses Conference, Oklahoma City University – Robinson, keynote address
  • “Pedagogies of Interfaith/Interreligious Studies” working paper, from research study for Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and IFYC – Jones, co-author with Cassie Meyer
  • “Pluralism and Global Citizenship: Peacemaking in Higher Education and the Public Sphere,” International Association of Chaplains in Higher Education Global Conference, LaTrobe University, Bendigo, Australia – Robinson
  • “Practical Divinity: Pluralism in a Liberal Arts Community,” chapter in “Peacemaking and the Prophetic Voice” – Robinson, co-authored with Erin Simmonds ’15.
  • “Reviving Sheila: Listening to the Call of Multiple Religious Belonging,” chapter in “Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy” – Jones (publication due December 2018)
  • “The Positive Engagement of Religious Difference,” Parliament of the World’s Religions, Toronto, Canada – Robinson
  • “The Spiritual Life of College Students: A National Study of College Students’ Search for Meaning and Purpose,” UCLA Higher Education Research Institute – Wofford participated in grant-funded research
  • “Using the Pluralism and Worldview Rubric to Engage Important Conversations in Higher Education,” Emory University, Atlanta, Ga. – Robinson
  • American Academy of Religion – Jones, presented in book, “Hearing Vocation Differently: Meaning, Purpose and Identity in the Multi-Faith Academy,” to be published December 2018
  • American Academy of Religion/Luce Foundation Fellow – Jones
  • Association of American Colleges and Universities national conventions (2) – Jones and Robinson
  • Association of American Colleges and Universities and Interfaith Youth Core summer institute, funded by Arthur Vining Davis Foundations – Jones
  • Bringing Theory to Practice grant, “Civic Engagement as Whole-Student Development: Identity Formation as a Prelude to Flourishing” – Jones and Robinson, along with Dr. Christine S. Dinkins, William R. Kenan Jr. professor of philosophy and Dr. Anne B. Rodrick, professor of history
  • Council of Independent Colleges and Network of Vocation in Undergraduate Education funded research – Jones
  • Council of Independent Colleges and Interfaith Youth Core interdisciplinary faculty development interfaith seminar – Jones
  • Council of Independent Colleges and Network of Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVue) national conference – Jones, plenary speaker in 2019
  • Dean’s Autumn Craft of Teaching Seminar, University of Chicago Divinity School – Jones
  • Harvard University conference, “A Convening on the Case Method,” hosted by The Pluralism Project, funded by the Wabash Center – Jones, invited to participate in 2019
  • IDEALS Survey, Mellon Foundation and Luce Foundation – Wofford participating in grant-funded survey
  • Interfaith Youth Core and Of Many Institute for Multifaith Leadership workshop, New York University – Jones and Robinson
  • National Association of College and University Chaplains conference, Yale University, “Assessing Religious and Spiritual Climate on College Campuses: Tools and Trends” – Robinson
  • Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and IFYC – Jones led and presented findings at a symposium and co-wrote a working paper

From theory to engagement
 
Students in the college’s Interfaith Engagement and Religious Pluralism course, taught this semester by Dr. Katherine Janiec Jones, associate provost and professor of religion, and the Rev. Dr. Ron Robinson ’78, Perkins-Prothro Chaplin and Professor of Religion, spent a long weekend in Washington, D.C., visiting a variety of religious, governmental and organizational leaders.
“We wanted to focus not only on the theory that goes with all the research and outcomes, but we wanted to actually try to go out and work with engagement,” Jones says.

The group visited the Methodist Building; the Capitol Building, where they attended Friday jumah prayers; the UN Foundation; the Berkley Center; the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; and the Washington National Cathedral. “A few of us also attended a hip-hop performance with an international cast of dancers, all of whom are Muslim,” Jones says.

Peter Coombs ’20 says he’s had “an exceptional experience in the class. I have learned about the history of religious pluralism and engagement as well as the current issues that arise with the subject today. This has been the most eye-opening part for me, as studying ancient cities where pluralism was prevalent can thoroughly relate to and counter some aspects of today’s culture.”

Coombs, who is from Toronto, Canada, says the Washington trip allowed him to expand his research and interest in the topics of pluralism and interfaith engagement. “Understanding the history and interactions between differing religions and cultures is very beneficial for the future of university students.”

Whether students are religion majors or not, and whether they plan to go to seminary or into another field, studying these issues will help them wherever they go, Robinson says. “If you’re in the health care field, for example, you need to know how to deal with people of different religious backgrounds. These are not ethical decisions, but day-to-day ways of relating to people,” he adds, recalling the first time a Hindu student’s parent died and he wasn’t sure how to respond appropriately and found no help from the hospital chaplain.

“I just realized what a need there is to know these things,” he says. “This emerging field of interfaith and religious pluralism focuses not only on the acquisition of a certain type of religious literacy, but also on skills — skills for engagement.”

By Laura H. Corbin