Thursday, December 8, 2011

Author Interview: Nathan R. Kollar, Defending Religious Diversity in Public Schools

Q: What prompted you to write Defending Religious Diversity in Public Schools?

A: I initiated and facilitated an eighteen-month investigation into how four undergraduate colleges and three seminaries identified and taught those who believed differently than the majority in their institutions. This research, sponsored by the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion, enabled me to see how the radically different in our midst enhanced the learning of both teacher and student in our classrooms. It was an easy step to see how diversity in the entire educational process was necessary for a more complete education. This step was encouraged and facilitated by Anthony Chiffolo, an editor at ABC-CLIO. The result was Defending Religious Diversity which was an amalgam of teaching and research from the grant and twenty-three years of teaching as adjunct professor in the leadership program at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester.

Q: What "message" do you want to communicate?

A: That diversity in general and religious diversity in particular are necessary for our national survival.

Q: What was the highlight of your research?

A: Being able to understand and clearly communicate the vast amount of legal interpretations and development surrounding religion in our public schools.

Q: In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most?

A: That religious bullying occurs in many of our public schools.

Q: What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

A: That it is possible to bring those who differ radically from each other together for enhancing the common good.

Q: How did your research change your outlook on religious diversity?

A: It made me realize that many times intrareligious diversity is more divisive than interreligious diversity.

Q: How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth?

A: Many wish that what is portrayed there can be achieved but hesitate to bring these ideas and skills into everyday practice. Reading about religious diversity is easy; living religious diversity is a challenge.

Q: Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

A: I had hoped that , once principals and school boards recognized that schools that have a comprehensive religious diversity program have less bullying and a more comprehensive view of the world, they would implement or deepen programs for diversity in their schools. This has not happened not only because of the difficulty of implementation but also because the present state of education in the United States is in crisis as to goals, methods, evaluation, and financial backing.

Q: What's next for you?

A: If diversity is essential to living in a pluralistic society then it is necessary for my spiritual life. Recent experiences with traditional college age students and middle aged attendees at adult education forms led me to further research and seeking to bring to fruition a primer for understanding the spiritualities of the classical religions and their alternatives. The UCLA longitudinal study demonstrates the need for such a work and an international conference on diversity of religions. Interfaith Understanding Conference suggests how to meet that need. My challenge is to get beyond the popular myths about spirituality and provide tested means from the social sciences to enhance people’s lives in this primer for understanding diverse spiritualities.

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