The Luce Foundation’s Religion and Theology Program recognizes the extraordinary diversity of faith and religion in American public life. We also understand that American religion, with all its complexities, can be a source of confusion and conflict. As a result, people retreat from engagement with one another and in the public sphere about faith and religion.
But Dr. Simran Jeet Singh, the executive director of the Aspen Institute's Religion & Society Program and the author of the memoir The Light We Give: How Sikh Wisdom Can Transform Your Life insists that we must not only face religion's murky history but also risk vulnerability to maintain community.
"We must be open and willing to listen to each other, allow others to ask questions, and sincerely listen. It's risky to be vulnerable, but what is the risk in not asking? This is an everyday question. What does it mean for our relationships to not speak up?" said Dr. Singh.
The Racial Justice & Religion Initiative at the Aspen Institute's Religion & Society Program, a Henry Luce Foundation Religion and Theology Program grantee, helps strengthen understanding of religion's role in racial justice work by providing educational opportunities for members to develop a more accurate picture of the challenges and opportunities that exist at the intersection of race and religion. The Initiative convenes a Collective of leaders from different faiths to work together, to find resonances and distinct differences, and ultimately to lean into shared values for the greater good.
"Pitting harms against each other is harmful. Our call is to understand and see where the marginalization is, the genesis and connectedness of our religious histories, and our shared experiences," said Dr. Audrey Price, the program director of the Racial Justice & Religion Initiative.
Dr. Price added that, historically, Christianity was co-opted to justify slavery and formed the foundation for the systemically unjust economic and social worlds that endure today. In this moment, we are seeing Christianity co-opted once again—this time by white nationalism.
In October, the faith leaders made a pilgrimage to Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama, beginning their journey at the Alabama River's bank, where slave traders transported enslaved Africans to sustain US slavery after the end of the transatlantic slave trade.
"There were tears, laughter, and knitting together. The immersion allowed everyone to see, experience, and expand on what they already knew about. When we walk along the paths of others' religious historical roots, we lose our sense of religious hierarchy and learn elements of our privilege and complicity," said Dr. Price, adding that pilgrimages are planned related to other faiths.
The Initiative’s efforts come down to learning to see each other as equally human and deserving.
"This diagnosis is neither new nor profound. It's the how to see each other that's challenging. Making assumptions about strangers is easy, but we love other complex people. That's why the Collective is valuable. Investing in getting to know one another. Relationships," Dr. Singh said.