Wabash Center grant to fund dialogue across difference

Contact: Cate R Caldwell

Faculty from Willamette and Claremont School of Theology will collaborate on the first funded research collaboration between faculty at the two institutions.

A $27,179 grant from The Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion will enable faculty members at Willamette University and Claremont School of Theology to study strategies that enable dialogue across difference on campus and in the community. David Gutterman (politics, policy, law and ethics) and Wendy Petersen-Boring (history) will collaborate with Andy Dreitcer and Frank Rogers (Center for Engaged Compassion) to conduct the two-year project, which is the first funded research collaboration between faculty at the two institutions.

The idea for the project grew out of one of several conversation groups spearheaded by the Academic Steering Committee. The goal of these discussions is to foster collaboration between the two faculties, since Claremont School of Theology is currently relocating to Salem to become Willamette’s third graduate school.

The project team will visit community-based organizations in the Pacific Northwest and engage in observation and analysis to understand the factors that lead to successful pluralistic conversation. Organizations such as the Oregon Humanities Conversation Project, The Hearth, Oregon’s Kitchen Table and Citizen University bring people from different ideological stances into common spaces to engage in face-to-face encounters and conversation. Researchers will focus on the elements of ritual, guided story-telling and attention to physical space, with an eye toward adapting successful approaches on college campuses.

After determining why successful community-based efforts work, the team’s goal is to develop pedagogical strategies that empower faculty to create learning environments that nurture honest, transformative dialogue. These resources will be widely disseminated, and therefore have the potential to impact faculty and students not only from Willamette and Claremont but also across the region and nationwide.

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