Grant program to focus on religious literacy

Meredith Minister

Shenandoah University will receive a $30,000 grant from Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, awarded to Dr. Meredith Minister, assistant professor of religion.

Minister said Wabash received around 60 letters of intent from religious educators and selected 15 to receive the grant. She said that unlike other Wabash grants, this particular program will serve as more of a pilot with three check-in meetings for project directors. One such meeting occurred in late September, and the full proposals were due in by Nov. 1.

Students entering their first semester at Shenandoah University must enter into the First Year Seminar program, where they can explore a myriad of diverse topics all along the “going global” initiative. Minister said that from data collected from the Global Perspective Inventory, which gauges how students think and process as global citizens, it was evident that SU students in the seminar were growing more aware in every field except religious understanding.

“Something seems to be going wrong, so we picked up that data point and turned that into the whole grant project, essentially,” she said.

Minister said that a pilot course for a second semester of the program was tested out last year.

“The idea of that was…there’s a lot of openness and excitement about FYS that we could continue into the second semester,” she said.

This coming spring semester, Minister will be implementing the grant to foster religious understanding in four second semester courses on female adolescence, Mayan civilizations, genocide and bread. Minister said students in those courses will meet regularly to explore the religious implications rooted in the subjects.

“There are a lot of courses right now where the themes of the courses touch on religious issues … I suspect that actually, the hesitance to talk about religion is actually one of the reasons that religion understanding does go down,” she said.

Another part of the grant project is Minister’s workshops for those faculty teaching first year seminar courses.

“It’s a well established program and we will just be training faculty to deal with religion in their classes in a different way,” she said. “It will sort of be expanding in concentric circles.”

Beyond the testing ground of the program, Minister said faculty enrichment would continue throughout the university. She said much of that faculty instruction will be rooted in questions and theory familiar to religious scholars and those faculty members will have access to additional resources.

Minister said there tends to be a perceived divide between religion and the secular that can inhibit full understanding in many subjects. Referring to that divide, she said, “That’s not even something that is an idea in much of the rest of the world – so faculty are hitting on religious issues all the time but they don’t have the tools to address them.”

The grant will be implemented over an 18-month period, at the end of which Minister will submit a final report to Wabash. Minister said the program’s end will mean an assessment and plenty of planning to ensure the process of fostering religious understanding remains ongoing.

“It’s going to be a lot of work, but it’s work that I’m excited to do,” Minister said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com