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MTSU Gets federal Grant to Promote Understanding of Religious Pluralism


With a $120,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, MTSU will help higher education faculty improve their students’ understanding of diverse cultures.

The interdisciplinary program “will explore the historical roots of religious intolerance and conflict in the South along with successful examples of religious pluralism in Tennessee communities,” according to the grant proposal.

MTSU will join forces with Cleveland State Community College in Cleveland, Tennessee, and Jackson State Community College in Jackson, Tennessee, to implement the program.

Professors from all three institutions and other Tennessee Board of Regents schools will gather at MTSU July 13-17 for workshops on integrating discussions of religious pluralism into the curricula. Joining the Tennessee faculty will be humanities scholars from across the country who will contribute their knowledge to the week’s dialogue and study together.

“We have a strong experience here at MTSU with faculty learning communities,” said Mary Evins, an associate research professor of history at the Center for Historic Preservation and director of the NEH-funded project.

“We see faculty learning communities as a very sustainable way to create change in terms of consciousness and ethos, not to mention practice and focus within the classroom.”

Following the workshop, the community college scholars will form their own faculty learning communities at their schools to promote further knowledge of religious diversity in Tennessee.

In addition to benefiting from the learning community, Cleveland State and Jackson State will enjoy visits from scholars who otherwise might not have placed community colleges on their itineraries.

The 20-month program also will include one-on-one course development planning sessions and mentoring for faculty and a one-day gathering at MTSU in January 2016 as a mid-project check-in for the participants.

At a conference including members from all TBR institutions in summer 2016, participants will be invited to share what they have learned with their fellow scholars and encourage them to make similar changes at their institutions.

With the HOPE scholarship available to entice students to pursue their college education in Tennessee and the Tennessee Promise tempting students to attend two-year colleges, the program aims to broaden the students’ worldview beyond the state’s borders.

“Many of our students have not been out of state,” Evins said. “Many have not flown in an airplane. The vast majority of them certainly have never been overseas.”

Anecdotal evidence indicates that many K-12 teachers are reluctant to broach the subject of religious diversity with their students for fear of upsetting parents or administrators.

“For us as faculty across all TBR colleges and universities, the very purpose of our teaching is to broaden our students’ knowledge, understanding and ideas,” said Evins. “We are intentionally studying the humanities together to refresh our own thinking toward improving the ways we impact our students.”