Hosted by the Interfaith Center of New York and funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the “Religious Worlds of New York” summer institute brings 25 teachers from across the country for two weeks of intensive training in religious studies. As the leaders of the institute put it, “If American students are to become truly educated, engaged citizens of their multicultural democracy, they need to understand its rich religious diversity.”
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Brent Rodriguez-Plate was invited to the institute to lead an afternoon workshop on material culture and religion. The event took place in July at Union Theological Seminary in Manhattan.
Using topics outlined in his 2014 book A History of Religion in 5 1/2 Objects, Plate offered ways of approaching the diversity of religious traditions through objects. He challenged others to create pedagogies around the lived religious lives of people that move beyond the superficial “dates and doctrines” method.
Plate noted that contrary to much popular opinion, it is legal to teach religious studies in public and private schools. However, he said, there are a number of considerations that need to be taken into account to do so properly.
Plate worked with the institute to help demonstrate the differences between academic and devotional approaches, as well as understanding the diversity of religious practices in the contemporary United States.