New $120K grant for MTSU will boost study of religious diversity

MTSU will use a $120,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to will help higher education faculty improve their students’ understanding of diverse cultures.

The interdisciplinary program “will explore the historical roots of religious intolerance and conflict in the South along with successful examples of religious pluralism in Tennessee communities,” according to the grant proposal.

MTSU will join forces with Cleveland State Community College and Jackson State Community College to implement the program.

NEH logo webProfessors from all three state institutions and other Tennessee Board of Regents schools will gather at MTSU July 13-17 for workshops on integrating discussions of religious pluralism into the curricula.

Humanities scholars from across the country will join the Tennessee faculty to contribute their knowledge to the week’s dialogue and study together.

NEH religious grant web“We have a strong experience here at MTSU with faculty learning communities,” said Dr. Mary Evins, an associate research professor of history at the Center for Historic Preservation and director of the NEH-funded project.

“We see faculty learning communities as a very sustainable way to create change in terms of consciousness and ethos, not to mention practice and focus within the classroom.”

Dr. Mary A. Evins

Dr. Mary A. Evins

Following the workshop, the community college scholars will form their own faculty learning communities at their schools to promote further knowledge of religious diversity in Tennessee.

Organizers said Cleveland State and Jackson State, along with benefiting from the learning community, will enjoy visits from scholars who otherwise might not have placed community colleges on their itineraries.

The 20-month program also will include one-on-one course development planning sessions and mentoring for faculty and a one-day gathering at MTSU in January 2016 as a mid-project check-in for the participants.

Jackson State logo webCleveland State logo web At a conference for all TBR institutions in summer 2016, participants will be invited to share what they have learned with their fellow scholars and encourage them to make similar changes at their institutions.

The program aims to broaden students’ worldview beyond Tennessee’s borders, especially in light of the new Tennessee Promise plan encouraging students to attend two-year colleges and the ongoing HOPE scholarship available for Tennessee universities.

“Many of our students have not been out of state,” Evins said. “Many have not flown in an airplane. The vast majority of them certainly have never been overseas.”

Anecdotal evidence indicates that many K-12 teachers are reluctant to broach the subject of religious diversity with their students for fear of upsetting parents or administrators.

“For us as faculty across all TBR colleges and universities, the very purpose of our teaching is to broaden our students’ knowledge, understanding and ideas,” said Evins. “We are intentionally studying the humanities together to refresh our own thinking toward improving the impact we have on our students.”

For more information, contact Evins at 615-904-8241 or mary.evins@mtsu.edu.

— Gina K. Logue (gina.logue@mtsu.edu)