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Civic Religious Pluralism: Expectations & Equipping Ourselves for the Year

December 1, 2022 Becca Hartman-Pickerill Interfaith Youth Core

JCC Connexions, Vol. 9, No. 1, February 2023

Engaging Civic Religious Pluralism: An Ongoing Column in JCC Connexions

 As 2023 kicks off, we can expect another consequential year (aren’t they all!). Expectations, of course, shape everything from our happiness to our experience of the world around us (Suttie, 2022; Trafton, 2019). As each of us commits ourselves to a year well lived—whatever that means for us—and we address high stakes realities (e.g., climate change, gun violence, wealth inequality, health disparities) with very local consequences, I invite you to consider these expectations for a new year.

First, expect relationships and connection. Hidden Brain did a fantastic series at the end of the year on Relationships 2.0 (Hidden Brain Podcast and Radio Show, 2022). Our perception of how we will be received, when meeting new people or connecting with people we’ve known a long time, shapes our demeaner and attitude, which shape others’ experiences of us. I’ve written before about the value of associational life in the US, which provides an opportunity to connect around shared interests or values and strengthen the weave of our social fabric (Hartman-Pickerill & Webb, 2022). Service and volunteering are common ways that people build relationships across deep difference. This spring Habitat for Humanity, the YMCA and Catholic Charities USA will be training their volunteers and service members in the skills of bridgebuilding, as part of the Nation of Bridgebuilders, in partnership with Interfaith America (IA) (Giess, 2022). There are many roots to the loneliness pandemic, and as Surgeon General Vivek Murthy closes a Hidden Brain episode called “An Antidote to Loneliness,” service in formal volunteerism and informal outreach and support are powerful opportunities for relationship and connection (Sweet, 2021; Hidden Brain Podcast and Radio Show, 2022).

Second, expect difference and disagreement. Deep disagreement is the premise of our diverse democracy, but that doesn’t mean humans are particularly good at engaging that difference and disagreement. The series of events at Hamline University (here is IA's explainer, and Eboo Patel’s invitation) in the last couple of months, and the ways it has been discussed, framed, and galvanized beyond the campus, is a poignant reminder of the skills needed to engage deep disagreement productively (Vroegrop, 2023; Patel, 2023). Whether we frame this as the skills of democratic engagement (Civic Learning for an Engagement Democracy), constructive disagreement (Heterodox Academy), deliberative dialogue (National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation), or bridgebuilding skills (Interfaith America), we should not underestimate the work and time that is required to build this skillset  (Dec 13-14: A National Forum on the College Civic Learning Movement, 2022; National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD); Weissman, 2022).

Third and finally, expect the need to invest the time to build the skills to be ready for relationship and engagement amidst deep difference. In addition to the organizations named above there are myriad accessible ways to nurture this skillset. Campuses have trusted partners in Campus Compact, Essential Partners, Braver Angels and Constructive Dialogue Institute, to name just a few (Campus Compact, 2023; Essential Partners, 2023; Braver Angels, 2023; Constructive Dialogue Institute, 2023). At Interfaith America we offer a Certificate in Interfaith Leadership with synchronous and asynchronous components. The skills we are talking about—cultivating self-awareness and self-regulation, deep listening, cultivating curiosity and perspective taking, among others—sound basic enough (INTF 101: Foundations of Interfaith Leadership, 2022). As Amanda Ripley chronicles in High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out, many cultural, biological and social patterns move us away from complexifying and nuancing a situation, and sitting amidst tension (Ripley, 2021). Monica Guzman’s I Never Thought of It That Way: How to have Fearlessly Curious Conversations in Dangerously Divided Times bring compelling contemporary data on politics and media, alongside compelling story telling and practical guidance on how to dig into these skills (Guzmán, 2022).

As we prepare for another momentous year, this is an invitation to expect relationships and connection, expect difference and disagreement, and invest in the time needed to cultivate bridgebuilding skills. While the instances of conflict and disagreement hold our attention (see Ripley’s book to learn more), one of the skills of bridgebuilding is developing a radar screen for stories of engagement, connection and collaboration across difference. Listen to, read, repeat those stories too. Many religious traditions call their adherents to be careful about what crosses their eyes, what they take into their hearts, and what they give their attention to; academics share a similar commitment, though differently framed, to pay attention to the best thinking and argument that you disagree with (not the most outlandish).  Whatever the motivation, my hope for our campuses and broader community is to live into these expectations and aspirations.


Braver Angels. (2023). https://braverangels.org/

Campus Compact. 2023). https://compact.org/

Constructive Dialogue Institute. (2023). https://constructivedialogue.org/

Essential Partners. (2023). https://whatisessential.org/

February 6-7: A National Forum on the College Civic Learning Movement. (2023, February 6-7). Civic Learning and Democracy Engagement Coalition; the University of Virginia’s Karsh Institute of Democracy. https://events.compact.org/clde/2719312

Giess, M. E. (2022, September 19). Running thread: A nation of bridgebuilders. Interfaith America: https://www.interfaithamerica.org/running-thread-a-nation-of-bridgebuilders/

Guzmán, M. (2022). I never thought of it that way: How to have fearlessly curious conversations in dangerously divided times. BenBella Books. https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/691561/i-never-thought-of-it-that-way-by-monica-guzman/

Hartman-Pickerill, B., & Webb, G. (2022, February). Where do we go from here as a Nation? NASPA. https://www.naspa.org/blog/where-do-we-go-from-here-as-a-nation

Hidden Brain Podcast and Radio Show (2022). Relationships 2.0: An antidote to loneliness. Hidden Brain Media.

Hidden Brain Podcast and Radio Show (2022). Relationships 2.0: What makes relationships thrive. Hidden Brain Media. https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/what-makes-relationships-thrive/

INTF 101: Foundations of Interfaith Leadership. (2022, July 15). Religion and Public Life; Interfaith America. Retrieved from https://www.learn.religionandpubliclife.org/courses/intf-101/

National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation (NCDD). (n.d.).  https://www.ncdd.org/

Patel, E. (2023, January 14). Religious disagreement in a diverse democracy. Interfaith America. https://www.interfaithamerica.org/religious-disagreement-diverse-democracy/

Ripley, A. (2021). High conflict: Why we get trapped and how we get out. Simon & Schuster.  https://www.amandaripley.com/high-conflict

Suttie, J. (2022, July 12). How to manage expectations to maximize happiness. Greater Good Magazine: Science-Based Insights for a Meaningful Life: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_manage_expectations_to_maximize_happiness

Sweet, J. (2021, January). The loneliness pandemic. Harvard Magazine https://www.harvardmagazine.com/2021/01/feature-the-loneliness-pandemic

Trafton, A. (2019, July 15). How expectation influences perception. Retrieved from MIT News: On Campus and Around the World: https://news.mit.edu/2019/how-expectation-influences-perception-0715#:~:text=For%20decades%2C%20research%20has%20shown,based%20on%20similar%20past%20experiences

Vroegrop, A. (2023, January 13). The Hamline University Muhammad controversy: What happened? Interfaith America. https://www.interfaithamerica.org/hamline-university-explainer/

Weissman, S. (2022, September 13). Mining the depths of Our differences. Inside Higher Ed. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2022/09/13/program-brings-christian-and-liberal-colleges-together