Teachers met Monday night to reflect on the origins and the center’s success in creating a space for interdisciplinary study involving religion.
In the decade since the Center for the Study of Religion, Culture and Society was established at Elon, it has become a hub of scholarship, exploration and dialogue.
Religious thinkers, writers and scholars regularly give lectures and presentations reflecting the influence of religion and our understanding of it. It hosts the biennial On the Edge symposium, which attracts interdisciplinary researchers from around the world and results in scholarly publications. Undergraduate students in the Multifaith Scholars program, which welcomes its sixth cohort this spring, spend two years investigating religion in communities and cultures through mentored research. And it welcomes Elon scholars whose research intersects with religion to inform campus and center activities.
In short, he accomplished his mission.
“Before there was a center, there were meetings in the PERCS room (Program for Ethnographic Research and Community Studies). I remember religious studies professor Toddie Peters’ passionate advocacy for a center for multi-faith dialogue that is also an academic center and a place of scholarship for professors,” said associate professor of art history Evan Gatti. “We saw the possibility of a broader dialogue and what that dialogue might look like. We started dreaming. A lot of these things happened.
At a reception marking the center’s first 10 years on Monday evening, faculty involved in founding and running the center reflected on their experiences. Panelists included Gatti, Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies Jeffrey Pugh, Associate Professor of Psychology Buffie Longmire-Avital, Assistant Professor of History Waseem bin Kasim and former Elon Professor of Anthropology Tom Mould, now at the Butler University.
The center was established in 2012 with religious studies professor Lynn Huber as director. She describes her role in those early years as encouraging faculty to carry out the center’s missions until a full-time director could be hired. In 2014, religious studies professor Brian Pennington became the center’s director.
“I inherited a hub that was already positioned as a hookup site,” Pennington said. “This place is about bringing people together.”
The center is designed to connect professors whose work overlaps religion to new ways of understanding the world. Just to scratch the surface, history, art history and geography; sociology, anthropology and psychology; language, communication and the arts inform or are influenced by religious matters.
Outgoing Resident Scholar Assistant Professor of Geography Sandy Marshall’s research focuses on human migration, particularly in the Middle East and the US-Mexico border. New scholar Kasim will spend the next two years researching the links between religion and medicine in Africa, tracing the influence of Christian missionaries on Muslim populations.
“I want to show how religious communities in Africa and West Africa have interacted over the years and find out how Christian missionaries have been able to enter Muslim societies, especially through health, health care and healing,” Kasim said.
Longmire-Avital described the center as a place to explore how race and religion are intertwined. “In trying to understand the history of the black experience in America, you can’t do that without talking about religion and how religion intersects so much with how we understand race,” she said. . As the founding director of Elon’s Black Lumen Project, Longmire-Avital wants to strengthen ties with area churches that have historically supported Elon’s black students.
Pugh recalled its beginnings as a professor of religious studies when the religion department Elon then focused largely on Christian education. The transition to a world religions based program helped Elon University to become more welcoming to students and professors of different denominations.
“I had hoped for a place like this all my time in Elon,” Pugh said. “This center…empowers us to understand and respond to the ways in which our world is influenced by practical beliefs that we categorize as religion. I am delighted to see this center flourish and grow.
The center’s immediate future includes enhancing multi-faith experiences at Elon through a strategic plan being developed with the Center for Inclusive Excellence and the Truitt Center, Pennington said. He also plans to continue to advance the collaboration with more university programs and Elon’s new graduate programs.
“We would like to see faculty from an expanding circle of departments being able to see themselves here and see their work as cutting across the center,” Pennington said.
Or, as stated in an extended Mold delivered Monday night satirical origin myth: “The seventh day came and went and they did not always rested.”