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From September 6-10, 2022, Religion, Spirituality, and Democratic Renewal (RSDR) Grantees across the 2020, 2021, and 2022 cohorts gathered at the Fetzer Institute Seasons Retreat Center for a grantee workshop. The convening was designed as an opportunity for grantee to reflect on their multidisciplinary research experience and encouraged grantees to connect their projects to issues that transcend their disciplines and research specialties. It was also designed in support of the program’s goal of forming a tightly connected intellectual community that would untangle age-old questions around democracy and religion and learn to bring those questions into public conversation. Thirteen grantees with disciplinary backgrounds from religion studies to criminology participated in the workshop.
Participants were welcomed in the practice of the Fetzer Institute’s sacred hospitality, which included integrating spiritual practices into each day and drew on diverse global practices of contemplation. Workshop components included topical sessions and small group project workshops. Each topical session was led by a faculty facilitator whose work focuses on religion and spirituality as it relates to politics, democracy, and civic society. Ruth Braunstein (University of Connecticut) facilitated a conversation on religion and civic life, particularly the normative categories we create for “good” and “bad” civic actions. Shreena Gandhi (Michigan State University) posed important questions about religious studies in the context of race and power dynamics. David Campbell (University of Notre Dame) drew on his work in non-religiosity and secularism to discuss using a mixed method approach to research. Diane Winston (University of Southern California) led a discussion regarding religion and media, and academia’s relationship with social media. These topical sessions were interspersed with small group workshopping times during which grantees shared and received feedback on their research projects. Throughout the convening, grantees and faculty connected during writing/break times, over meals, and through after-dinner conversations. These more informal conversations as well as the small group project convenings were not only productive but helped foster community and fellowship amongst all participants.
Convenings of this kind contribute to the RSDR Program’s goal of building sustained research and collegial cohorts, as well as challenge and shift vital questions surrounding the role of spirituality and religion to the renewal of democratic life and institutions that the program seeks to address.