The Center on Religion & the Professions works to improve religious literacy among professionals, to help them serve a diverse public. We believe that as America grows more religiously diverse, professionals need to better understand the religious traditions and beliefs of the public they serve. Our interdisciplinary, practical and applied work centers on that mission. Founded in 2003 with a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Center is one of Pew’s 10 Centers of Excellence.
We improve the religious literacy of professionals by
- Supporting ground-breaking research on how religion affects people and encouraging its use by the appropriate professionals;
- Creating resources and training programs to improve religious literacy among professionals;
- Developing and testing curriculum about religion for all disciplines;
- Presenting public forums and discussions to improve professionals’ and the public’s understanding of religion.
Ultimately, we seek to help professionals and students become more aware and respectful of religious and cultural beliefs among co-workers, clients or patients, and to be sensitive how religion affects perspectives of ourselves and others.
Religion wields extraordinary influence in individual lives as well as in world events, yet it is one of the most understudied phenomena in today’s academic sphere. It is vital that professionals and those entering the workforce understand the role of faith and values as they work in increasingly diverse settings.
The professions are diverse, and each is related to religion in unique ways. We believe it is important to encourage curriculum and training in many professions to enhance understanding and service. Interdisciplinary exposure prepares students and professionals for the diverse context of the professional realm.
Professionals generally serve the public, require specialized knowledge and training, have ethical codes, and often require some sort of licensing. Doctors, lawyers, nurses, engineers, teachers, journalists, psychologists, clergy, social workers, veterinarians, and other professionals share most of these qualities. But our Center defines professionals broadly. Understanding the faiths that motivate and affect people is necessary for all citizens in a democracy that prizes its freedom of religion.
The public is becoming more diverse and the role of religion in public life has grown more prominent. Professionals today need a broad understanding of religion to effectively serve this increasingly diverse nation.
Some questions professionals may face related to religion include:
- How does religion affect a patient’s understanding of healing and attitudes toward treatment?
- How can journalists report on faith and values with accuracy and balance? How does their own faith impact what they write?
- Religion affects how people raise their children and the values they pass on, yet sometimes a religion can clash with cultural expectations and norms. How do social workers handle conflicts of values with those they serve?
- Are scientists and engineers equipped to consider the human consequences of new technologies?
- What challenges and opportunities do demographic shifts provide for businesses and marketing?
- What do lawyers do when civil law and a client’s sense of religious law clash?
We have partnered with several campus groups and academic units. These include:
- Department of Religious Studies
- Center for Health Ethics, Health Management and Informatics, University of Missouri-Columbia
- Center for Dispute Resolution, School of Law, University of Missouri-Columbia
- Department of Health Psychology
- Department of Rural Sociology
- Difficult Dialogues Project, University of Missouri-Columbia
- School of Journalism
- University of Missouri Extension
- University Bookstores
The Center operates independently, but often collaborates with other programs that contribute to learning in the field of religious understanding.
The Center is currently working on four projects:
- A project to improve the religious literacy of reporters by strengthening journalistic coverage of religion in the United States;
- A project to improve the religious literacy of health researchers and professionals by exploring the relationship between religion, spirituality, and a variety of health-related fields, including adolescent health behaviors, neuroscience, physical health, mental health, chronic cognitive and physical disability and medical disorders;
- A project to improve the religious literacy of the professions by fostering discussion and scholarship on the relationship of ethics as applied to professionals;
- A project to improve the religious literacy of the public by sponsoring lectures and forums on issues related to religion and public life.
The Center’s past work includes:
- Studies of how religion helps or hurts brain-damaged people cope
- Curriculum development for training journalists in religion
- Studies of professionals’ attitudes of religion
- Public forums on religion
- Small group discussions on ethics and the professions
- Creation of an online journal
- Sponsorship of fellows
- Scholarly presentations and publications
The Center is developing a series of short courses for medical, nursing and health professionals to help them understand how clients’ religious beliefs and practices may come in conflict with traditional medical practices and ways to approach these situations. It also is planning significant research about how the public views religion news coverage.
We welcome all interested people to become involved with the Center. The Center works with faculty and students from a range of disciplines at the University of Missouri-Columbia, as well as noted authors, scholars, researchers, public figures, religious leaders and thinkers from around the world. To discuss your interest, call 573-882-9257 or e-mail MasonDL@missouri.edu.
The Center was founded in April 2003 with a $1.4 million, two-year grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. The Center received a $1.5 million two- to three-year renewal grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts in December 2005. The university is required to raise endowment funds to keep the Center running once grant funding ends. It aims to raise funds from contributors nationwide.
Learn about contributing to the Center here.