Social Justice and Civic Engagement

Pedagogies for Social Justice and Civic Engagement

In 2019, The Wabash Center requested grant proposals for projects focused on pedagogies that encourage students to critically consider issues of public engagement and social action in relationship to the understanding of religion. Grant recipients gathered at the Wabash Center prior to commencing their projects, for two days of discussion focused on on their project proposals. Information about what the grant recipients are learning will be posted in various ways on the Wabash Center webpages. 


Front Row: Leah Schade (Lexington Theological Seminary), Emily S. Wu (Dominican University of California), Tyler Atkinson (Bethany College), Amy McFarland (Grand Valley State University), Ben Sanders (Eden Theological Seminary), Ben Brazil (Earlham School of Religion).

Second Row: Sarah J. King (Grand Valley State University), Sarah Tanzer (McCormick Theological Seminary), Steed Vernyl Davidson (McCormick Theological Seminary), George Faithful (Dominican University of California), *Sarah Drummond (Andover Newton at Yale Divinity School – Leadership), Christopher Tirres (DePaul University), Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom (North Park Theological Seminary).

Not pictured: Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre (Drew University Theological Seminary.

*leadership/staff position.

Funded Projects

Freedom Schools: Educating Liberal Arts College Students to be Engaged Citizens
Bethany College
Adam Pryor/Tyler Atkinson

By receiving a Pedagogies for Social Justice and Civic Engagement grant we hope to create a more robust scaffolding for constructing courses that help students take responsibility for the knowledge they gain through (1) paying attention to the public significance of religious and confessional commitments while (2) becoming equipped to be leaders in public life who can act on the senses of responsibility entailed by these commitments. We will work collaboratively with professors from other religiously affiliated liberal arts colleges in Kansas (McPherson College, Southwestern College, and University of St. Mary) to more clearly identify the skills that need to be taught to students for civic transformation so that those students can begin to transgress the assumptions that frame what they believe is the limited role that learning in the classroom has in relation to wider publics.

Religious Studies, Community Engagement, and Pedagogies of Transformation
DePaul University
Christopher Tirres

DePaul University’s Center for Religion, Culture, and Community—in conjunction with the Department of Religious Studies and the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences—proposes a comprehensive, two-year initiative that focuses on implementing, testing, and assessing pedagogies of community engagement as high impact teaching practices. The initiative would help faculty to refine and/or create teaching strategies that facilitate student engagement in community projects or concerns, and it would help faculty to develop assessment tools to measure how effective these strategies are. The goal is to significantly impact student learning within the context of introductory-level Religious Studies courses by leveraging resources currently offered through the DePaul’s Irwin W. Steans Center for Community-based Service Learning as well as the Center for Teaching and Learning. For their time, dedication, and effort, faculty would be awarded a salary incentive for the duration of the project.

Transforming Our Pedagogies: Moving from a Religion to a Social Justice Major
Dominican University of California
George Faithful/Emily Wu

“How do we, as faculty members in a Religion/Philosophy Department, shift paradigms in our teaching and scholarship to embrace critical and social justice pedagogies that are centered in community/civic engagement?” To respond to this important question, Dominican plans to offer emancipatory education in support of democratic values and inclusive policies and communities. Based on student interest in our Community Action and Social Change (CASC) minor and service-learning courses, we have created a new Social Justice major. Our new major will cultivate critical consciousness, the capacity to question in order to transform the status quo, and the ability to draw on religious and philosophical concepts and values as a foundation for shaping a better world. Grounded in a vision of more equitable, just, and sustainable communities, we seek to revise and re-envision our pedagogies to emphasize and reinvigorate the role and relevance of our disciplines in the larger social fabric.

Adaptive Expertise: Developing Faculty for Problem-Based Learning
Drew Theological School
Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre

Drew University Theological School respectfully seeks to gather faculty with leaders from innovative, entrepreneurial ministries and community organizations. Today’s Christian leaders must be adaptive experts able to think and act creatively in the constantly changing and complex contexts of ministry within and beyond the church. While the theological disciplines deepen expertise in Christian thought, practices, and responses to historic and contemporary challenges, theological educators must also develop in their students the capacity for entrepreneurial and problem-solving adaptivity. This work must be infused throughout a ministry curriculum in order to prepare students for future ministries–some of which do not yet exist. Two retreats will expand Drew faculty capacities for praxis-oriented teaching that reflect our shared values. We will connect deeply with and learn from socially-engaged churches and emergent ministries in our region and develop our partnerships with them in the work of theological education.

Preparing Students to Support Diverse Communities by Teaching them to Handle Conflict
Earlham School of Religion
Ben Brazil

If communities, churches, and social movements are to be both healthy and genuinely diverse, conflict will predictably arise. How can we form students who have the skills, emotional resources, and spiritual virtues to remain committed, engaged, and effective when conflict erupts? This project seeks to train faculty, forge community partnerships, and adjust our curriculum in ways that connect classroom discussions of diversity to real-life encounter with difference. In particular, it seeks 1) to equip faculty to teach productive approaches to conflict in the classroom and seminary community; 2) to establish mutually beneficial teaching and service partnerships with community organizations that serve populations which differ from our own; 3) to develop ways to teach racial justice topics to largely white classrooms with support from scholars of color as we diversify; and 4) to develop strategies to implement our pedagogies of difference and conflict for our online students.

Embracing the “Progressive Christian Movement”: How Eden Seminary Will Use Educational, Institutional, and Communal Learning to Combat Structural Racism in St. Louis
Eden Theological Seminary
Ben Sanders

Eden Seminary proposes to improve faculty teaching and student learning in regard to its curricular goal to form religious leaders with the capacity and purpose to dismantle structural racism (and intersecting oppressions). This proposal emerges out of the seminary’s vision to be a center of the progressive Christian movement, which hears Jesus’ call to love God and neighbor in the struggle for social justice. It seeks to improve and develop a component of the seminary’s curriculum, its institutional culture, and its community engagement as a means of strengthening the church as an agent of God’s redemptive work in combating the evils of structural racism and other forms of structural oppression.

Growing Diversity
Grand Valley State University
Sarah King/Amy McFarland

Growing Diversity will use a modified Piedmont/Ponderosa model to provide structured engagement between faculty as they explore the interdisciplinary interrelationships of religious and food studies, design experiential place-based pedagogies for religious diversity, and pilot these teaching practices in a supported learning community over two academic years. Faculty teaching in Religious, Area, and Food Studies will be coached by peer mentors, and supported with technical and administrative assistance. At the conclusion of their courses, faculty will report, discuss, and reflect on their work in the previous year, and make plans for future work and dissemination. Through these activities Growing Diversity will develop the analytical, interpersonal, leadership, communications, problem-solving and decision-making skills and abilities of students at Grand Valley State University, and better prepare a greater number and diversity of them for work and/or graduate study in social and food justice.

Dialogue in the “Purple Zone”: Pedagogies for Civil Discourse in Online and On-site Settings
Lexington Theological Seminary
Leah Schade

This project explores the use of deliberative dialogue as a pedagogical tool for facilitating difficult conversations in online and on-site settings with seminary students, clergy, and laity for the purpose of encouraging civic engagement within theological education and the larger church. We will focus on techniques of teaching civil discourse to create a “purple zone” within the red-blue divide of all three learning settings of our curriculum – online, on-site, and in the congregation. Our goal is to help learners develop multi-perspective understandings of their own and others’ views while demonstrating the possibility of increased willingness to engage in public issues and social action. Our intent is to determine if deliberative dialogue is a viable pedagogical method for bridging the divide between seminary study and public ministry. Institutionally, we will consider the ways in which we may integrate the pedagogy of deliberative dialogue across disciplines and within our collective philosophy of teaching.

Teaching Interfaith Competent Civic Leaders
McCormick Theological Seminary
Steed Davidson/Sarah Tanzer

This project focuses on equipping McCormick faculty to form interfaith competent civic leaders. Developing conversations regarding curriculum, academic programs, and seminary mission will make civic engagement a core aspect of McCormick’s mission in the near future. In the diverse context of Chicago, fostering civic engagement as a form of Christian dominionism runs counter to McCormick’s historic commitments. Through a consulting partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, the project features workshops, site visits to educational, civic, and religious groups, hands on learning through community organizing models, reframing of courses and other curricula documents. Using all local resources – city and seminary – the project provides opportunities to leverage the Chicago context as the text for teaching and learning around the formation of civic leaders. Over the course of two years McCormick’s faculty will learn pedagogical strategies suited to managing various diversities in classrooms and nurture pedagogical practices consistent with the formation of civic leaders.

Teaching Creative Communication and Instilling the Value of Nonviolent Conflict in the Prison Classroom: Interdisciplinary Strategies for Theological Educators
North Park Theological Seminary
Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom

Creative communication in the midst of conflict is a humanizing practice that contributes to healthy communities and effective ministry. Yet conflict of any sort is a complicated reality in a maximum security prison, and it is difficult—even in the classroom—to promote nonviolent conflict skills. This project draws upon courses and faculty from a variety of disciplines related to conflict and communication. It aims to further knowledge about how the seminary classroom can prepare students for ministry in “social worlds enmeshed in conflicted and conflicting realities”, particularly in contexts such as prison. Our hypothesis is that learning communities who learn to value nonviolent conflict and employ creative communication strategies will become more effective ministers as evidenced by two marks of ministry preparedness: 1. Students will experience individual healing and 2. Students will be agents of restoration at the interpersonal and community levels.

Wabash Center