Spiritual and Religious Diversity

What is Spirituality, Secularism, and Religion in Higher Education?

Spirituality, secularism, and religion are complex and expansive topics that warrant careful consideration in North American college campuses. College and university students attend classes not just with Catholics, Jews, and Protestants (and many kinds of secular individuals), but with Muslims, Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Wiccans, Sikhs, and members of other religious communities and sub-communities (Jacobsen, 2012, p. 7). Moreover, an increasing number of people are putting together their own unique combinations of religious ideas, practices, experiences, and core values from religious and nonreligious sources (Jacobsen, 2012, p. 7).

Recognizing spiritual, secular and religious diversity in Higher Education facilitates positive, meaningful relationships with people from different backgrounds and increases appreciative knowledge of other traditions.1 It is not a matter of imposing faith or morality on anyone. It is, rather, a matter of responding intelligently to the questions of life that students and faculty find themselves necessarily asking as they try to make sense of themselves and the world in an era of ever-increasing social, intellectual, and religious complexity.2

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Religious Accommodation Statement

The University of Denver has an enduring commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence, including religious diversity. The University honors and respects students’ rights to engage sincerely held religious beliefs or practices and provides an educational environment in which all students are free from harassment and discrimination based on religious and spiritual identities and expressions. As part of this commitment, the University provides reasonable accommodations for students’ sincerely held religious beliefs or practices.
 

*Note: Every attempt will be made to honor requests for religious accommodation unless the University determines that such an accommodation would fundamentally alter the curriculum or academic program; also, please note that DU accommodations must be consistent with the requirements of federal, state and local law. 

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Key Tenets

  • Religion is still a significant part of our world (Jacobsen, 2012, p. 153).
  • Given its civic and social relevance, religion is a topic that one must address in the classroom.
  • Paying attention to religion has the potential to enhance student learning and to improve higher education as a whole (Jacobsen, 2012, p. vii).
  • Becoming religiously, spiritually, and secularly multilingual takes time and effort.
  • Respect for people’s diverse religious and nonreligious identities is essential.
  • Mutually inspiring relationships between people of different backgrounds is a key component to fruitful interfaith dialogue.
  • Engaging difference, rather than confrontation or tolerance, is a learned skill.
  • Respect for religious points of view also includes consulting and working to honor interfaith calendar dates when scheduling meetings, projects, and due dates. 
  • Appreciative attitudes develop in campuses where students experience space and support for spiritual expression (Adapted from Best Practices for Interfaith Learning and Development in the First Year of College)
  • These appreciative attitudes reflect respect, admiration, and high regard toward different identity groups and across difference (Adapted from Best Practices for Interfaith Learning and Development in the First Year of College)

 

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Inclusive pedagogies expand religious & spiritual literacy

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Honoring spiritual diversity allows for whole-person teaching

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It is important to honor religion's affect on students' lives

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Inclusive practices allow for the recognition of difference

Definitions

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    Spirituality

    the quality of being concerned with the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things

    (adapted from Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)

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    Secularism

    the principle of separation of the state from religious institutions

    (adapted from Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)

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    Religion

    one of the systems of faith that are based on the belief in the existence of a particular god or gods, or in the teachings of a spiritual leader 

    (adapted from Oxford Learner’s Dictionary)

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    Religious Literacy

    the knowledge of, and ability to understand, religion. The importance of being religiously literate is increasing as globalization has created greater links and migration between societies of different faiths and cultures (Moore, 2007).

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    Interfaith Etiquette

    the appropriate ways to interact with members of different religions. Proper religious etiquette is necessary for both interpersonal relations and institutional structures; it requires comprehension of differences and then making appropriate adjustments in behavior (Jacobsen, 2012, p. 75)

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  • Citations

    Cf. “About,” Interfaith Youth Core, ifyc.org/about.
    2 From “No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education” by R. H.Jacobsen and D. Jacobsen, (2012), p. 30.  : Copyright 2012 by Oxford University Press

  • References

    Jacobsen, R. H., Jacobsen, D. (2012). No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Moore, D. (2007). Overcoming Religious Illiteracy: A Cultural Studies Approach to the Study of Religion in Secondary Education. Springer.

    Castelli, M. (2012). Faith dialogue as a pedagogy for a post secular religious education. Journal of Beliefs & Values, 33(2), 207-216.

    Court, D., & Seymour, J. L. (2015). What Might Meaningful Interfaith Education Look Like? Exploring Politics, Principles, and Pedagogy. Religious Education, 110(5), 517-533.

    Whittaker, C. R., Salend, S., & Elhoweris, H. (2009). Religious diversity in schools: Addressing the issues. Intervention in school and clinic, 44(5), 314-319.

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Teaching Practices

Spiritual and Religious Diversity

Put it into practice

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Religious Accommodation Policy

The University of Denver has an enduring commitment to diversity and inclusive excellence, including religious diversity. The University honors and respects students’ rights to engage sincerely held religious beliefs or practices and provides an educational environment in which all students are free from harassment and discrimination based on religious and spiritual identities and expressions. As part of this commitment, the University provides reasonable accommodations for students’ sincerely held religious beliefs or practices.

Students are expected to contact faculty in advance of needed religious accommodations. Faculty are asked to be responsive to such requests.

Examples of reasonable accommodations for student absences might include: rescheduling of an exam or giving a make-up exam for the student in question; altering the time of a student’s presentation; allowing extra-credit assignments to substitute for missed classwork or arranging for increased flexibility in assignment due dates; releasing a graduate assistant from teaching or research responsibilities, etc. The student must be given the opportunity to do appropriate make-up work that is equivalent and intrinsically no more difficult than the original exam or assignment. Faculty should keep in mind that religion is a deeply personal and private matter and should make every attempt to respect the privacy of the student when making accommodations.

If a student and course instructor cannot agree on an accommodation, the student may bring the matter to the Department Chair for a decision. Additional resources in resolving disagreements over accommodations include The Cultural Center and Spiritual Life, and the Office of Equal Opportunity.

For support around religious accommodations, please contact the Director of the Cultural Center and Spiritual Life
 

  • For Students

    University policy grants students excused absences from class or other organized activities for the observance of religious holy days, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship. Faculty are asked to be responsive to requests when students contact them IN ADVANCE to request such an excused absence. Students are responsible for completing assignments given during their absence, but should be given an opportunity to make up work missed because of religious observance.

    Examples of reasonable accommodations for student absences might include: rescheduling of an exam or giving a make-up exam for the student in question; altering the time of a student’s presentation; allowing extra-credit assignments to substitute for missed classwork or arranging for an increased flexibility in assignment due dates; releasing a graduate assistant from teaching or research responsibilities, etc. The student must be given the opportunity to do appropriate make-up work that is equivalent and intrinsically no more difficult than the original exam or assignment. Faculty should keep in mind that religion is a deeply personal and private matter and should make every attempt to respect the privacy of the student when making accommodations.

    If a student and course instructor cannot agree on an accommodation, the student may bring the matter to the Department Chair for a decision. Additional resources in resolving disagreements over accommodations include the University Chaplain and the Office of Equal Opportunity

    As of summer 2019, support around religious accommodations for University employment, courses, housing/dining, and student activities, will be provided by Dr. Thomas Walker, Director, Inclusion and Equity Education, thomas.walker@du.edu, phone 303.871.4614.

  • For Faculty

    Faculty should notify their department chair (or otherwise appropriate person within their department) of any such absences that will occur as a result of this policy and explain alternative accommodations that will be made for missing a class (such as holding a make-up class, a guest speaker, etc.). The faculty member is to be trusted that he/she will observe the holy day as promised; no proof will be expected.

    If a faculty member’s request for a religious accommodation is denied by the department head, the faculty member may appeal the decision to the dean and ultimately to the Provost.

    Employees who believe they have been discriminated against on the basis of religion by the denial of a requested religious accommodation may contact the Office of Equal Opportunity.

DU Interfaith Calendar

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Step-by-Step Guide to Transforming Your Calendar

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Participate in the DU Interfaith Challenge

Best Practice Includes

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    Understanding that there is a difference between teaching about religion and actively considering the spiritual, secular, and religious identities that our students bring into the classroom.

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    Framing questions in such a way that students begin to think about

    • An increasingly multifaith world (religious literacy and interfaith etiquette),
    • Truth and values in the public domain (framing knowledge and civic engagement),
    • Personal identity and purpose - convictions, character, and vocation (Jacobsen, 2012, p. 156).
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    Whether religious, secular, spiritual (or something else), teaching to the whole person means framing material in such a way that it—at times—gets at “things that really matter” and how these deeper concerns of life relate to the more practical skills and knowledge that colleges and universities also convey to students (Jacobsen, 2012, p. 156).

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    Challenging student assumptions while also being open and honest about yours, so that “students cultivate the kind of intellectual empathy they need to take seriously the views of ‘others’”(Lelwica, 2018, p. 1).

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    Highlighting diversity across religious traditions, but also within and among traditions, including making mindful and informed scheduling decisions in consultation with an interfaith calendar. 

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    Cultivating respect of and accommodation for diverse religious identities (Patel, Bringman & Silverman, 2015, pp. 1-9)

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    Inviting interfaith texts into your curriculum, texts that present a variety of religious viewpoints.

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    Taking great care in calling on a student (or even allowing a student to volunteer) to "represent" their religion in a class session or project; just because the student identifies with a religion does not mean that the student is comfortable or adept in speaking for an entire group. Turning to students of specifically minority religions to update the class on specific traditions can also send a tacit message that the religion is too "novel or misunderstood" for the professor to know about or present on. 

Tanenbaum Fact Sheets

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Christmas

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Eid-al-Adha

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Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur

  • References

    Patel, E., Baxter, K. B., & Silverman, N. (2015). Leadership Practices for Interfaith Excellence in Higher Education. Liberal Education, 101, n1-9.

    Jacobsen, R. H., Jacobsen, D. (2012). No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education. Oxford University Press.

    Lelwica, M. (2008). Religious diversity: Challenges and opportunities in the college classroom. Diversity & Democracy, 11(1), 1-5.

    IFYC, Best practices for interfaith learning and development in the first year of college. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.ifyc.org/resources/best-practices-interfaith-learning-and-development-first-year-college

DU Campus

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