Rice University logo
 
Top blue bar image
 
header title
 
 

2013-2014 Archived Events

View from the Top: How Religion Shapes Those in Power

May 21, 2014
View the photo set »

View from the Top: How Religion Shapes Those in PowerOn the evening of May 21st, 2014, the RPLP hosted Michael Lindsay, President of Gordon College and former Assistant Professor of Sociology at Rice, for a public conversation on religion and leadership. Over one hundred and seventy-five members of the broader Houston community attended the event, and RPLP director Elaine Howard Ecklund served as facilitator, engaging Lindsay with questions designed by Rice undergraduates before fielding questions from the audience in an open Q&A. The discussion drew upon Lindsay’s new book View From the Top: An Insider Look at How People in Power See and Shape the World, with a particular focus on the ways in which leaders view religion in relation to their own personal lives and careers, as well as how they translate those personal understandings to a broader public. During his interviews for the book, conducted with business and political leaders across the country, Lindsay consistently encountered a desire among interviewees to bring their moral convictions to bear on their work. He noted a desire for leaders to integrate their personal understandings of right and wrong with their interpersonal conduct and decision-making, both inside and outside the boardroom or office. While these moral convictions did not always match up tidily with religious beliefs, Lindsay found that many executive leaders linked their moral framework of understanding to their faith tradition.

 

A Public Conversation on Religious Understandings of Science

April 14, 2014
View the photo set »
Watch the video recap »

Public Conversation on Religious Understandings of ScienceApril 14, 2014 marked the RPLP’s first public event at which we invited the public to hear initial findings from the RUS study. The event brought experts in theology, science, and religion to the table as RPLP Director, Dr. Elaine Howard Ecklund was joined by fellow panelists Dr. Jennifer Wiseman, astrophysicist and Director of the Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion (DoSER) program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Dr. Philip Clayton, Professor of Theology at Claremont School of Theology; and Fr. Donald Nesti, director of the Center for Faith and Culture at the University of St. Thomas. Each of the panelists agreed that ultimately, there can be positive intersections between religious belief and science. According to Wiseman, frustration results when scientists meet pushback against ostensibly valid results; likewise, religious communities are frustrated when scientists seemingly fail to acknowledge ethical concerns present in scientific work. Wiseman believes that acknowledging both groups’ points of view can resolve these obstacles and offer harmony between them. In order to do so, Nesti advised scientists and religious communities to engage in the “art of dialogue” in a public forum: “We [must] be ready to listen, respond, and create environments where both groups can come together, dispassionately but with conviction.” Clayton supported his colleagues’ ideas, suggesting that scientists and religious communities must dialogue on the level of worldviews—an area of perceived cohesion— rather than on individual data points. On this common ground, scientists can present data that religious communities can accommodate through the lens of their scriptures. Wiseman concluded the panel by saying that scientists and religious communities must make contact to inform themselves about differing beliefs and values; interaction between the two groups can mitigate perceived misunderstandings and facilitate greater understanding.

 

Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in Kansas and Texas

April 10, 2014
View the photo set »
Watch the video recap »

Red State ReligionOn April 10, 2014, members of the Rice and larger Houston communities joined the RPLP for a public symposium featuring Robert Wuthnow, Gerhard R. Andlinger Professor of Sociology at Princeton University. An expert on religious pluralism and the connection between religion and race in the United States, Wuthnow discussed two of his recent books, Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland (2012) and Rough Country: How Texas Became America’s Most Powerful Bible-Belt State (2014). Wuthnow’s talk centered on the relationship between religion and politics, specifically conservative religion and politics. Rather than investigate why these two entities are related, he digs deeper to understand how they are. Kansas and Texas are particularly compelling cases for study given their paradoxical differences and similarities.

 

 Does Religion Prevent or Promote Health?: A Public Conversation on Spirituality, Health Behaviors, and Social Inequality

March 28, 2014
View the photo set »
Watch the video recap »

Does Religion Prevent or Promote HealthJust over 80 people gathered on a Friday morning to hear from three scholars who have conducted original research studies on the relationship between religion and health outcomes. Together, Ann Barnes, MD (Associate Professor, Baylor College of Medicine), Alejandro Chaoul, PhD (Assistant Professor, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center), and Mary Shaw, PhD (Associate Professor, Florida International University) discussed the ways in which religion can help and hinder health, particularly in underserved minority populations. All panelists agreed that social inequality is a significant component of healthcare delivery, with real consequences for patient outcomes. Both Barnes and Shaw highlighted underserved patients’ competing priorities that conflict with prioritizing health—such as paying bills and providing for children. Selflessness and caring for others are core tenants of many religions, and these tenants sometimes hinder patients’ abilities to care for themselves. Chaoul also noted that adopting healthier lifestyles can be beyond some patients’ means, and that organic and all-natural diets are often restricted from those below the middle class. The experts agreed that interventions rooted in the church will likely play a central role in transforming healthcare delivery for underserved communities in the future.

The Impact of Asian Americans on the American Religious Landscape

February 18, 2014
View the photo set »
Watch the video recap »

Asian American Religion EventOn February 18, 2014 Elaine Howard Ecklund, Director of the Religion and Public Life Program, was joined by a panel of experts on Asian American religions within the United States: Prema Kurien, Professor of Sociology at Syracuse University; Pawan Dhingra, Professor of Sociology at Tufts University; and Jerry Park, Associate Professor of Sociology at Baylor University. The panel was formed to address how Asian American religions have transformed the American religious landscape. Focusing on South Asian religious, the panelists were able to narrow this extremely robust topic. From the onset all of the speakers agreed that ethnic identity and acculturation are linked in Asian American religious organizations. Asian immigrants locate churches and other religious organizations as spaces in society where they can connect with co-ethnics and share information about jobs and legal issues, Dhingra said. The speakers also noted that Asian American religions challenge the mainstream definitions and assumptions about religion. Park explained that some Asian Americans who practice Buddhism and Folk religions do not show outwards signs of religion. For example, they may claim to have no religion but perform traditional rites at the shrines they have at home. The idea of differing religious expectations also arose when Kurien responded to a question by Esther Chan, Post-baccalaureate Fellow at the Religion and Public Life Program, about how Asian American religions challenge dominant American assumptions. Asian American religions like Hinduism challenge our assumptions about the nature of religiosity because many of the common practices of the salvation religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity), like having to attend religious services and read a holy book, are not requirements of Asian religions. Because we can pick multiple races but not multiple religions on the U.S. census, we should “unpack assumptions and be more sensitive” to different religious identities, Park said. Kurien, Park, and Dhingra recognized the need for Americans to begin critically thinking about how we define and talk about religions outside of the mainstream and how that dialogue affects the American religious landscape.

 A Public Conversation on Religion in China

November 15, 2013
View the photo set » 

Religion in ChinaSixty-five people gathered for a dialogue with renowned sociologist of religion, Fenggang Yang. Yang is Professor of Sociology at Purdue University and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Chinese Culture. To begin Ecklund posed questions that were written by RPLP student fellows, ranging in topic from religious freedom in China and the United States to the sociological and religious climate in China. Yang highlighted three themes within Chinese religious studies: conception, regulation, and civil society. Conception refers to the public’s understanding of science as well as the intersection of everyday business with religion. Administrative agencies within China pass ordinances, very different from American laws, which regulate religion. Yang also discussed civil society as the vital civil organization that supervises authority and takes action. Though Yang regarded civil society in China currently as weaker than it should be, he also spoke about advocates such as Christian lawyers who challenge some ordinances and fight for religious and civil rights.

To Top

Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Human Trafficking

October 30, 2013

In conjunction with the “Religious Responses to Human Trafficking” event, several RPLP student fellows organized a dinner dialogue for undergraduates to discuss issues related to human trafficking both in America and abroad. Over dinner, about eight students from different academic backgrounds discussed their own impressions of the event and thoughts on labor trafficking and sex trafficking. The casual format of the dinner dialogue enabled undergraduate students to talk openly about the growing interest and advocacy work around human trafficking and ask questions about how students and other citizens can become more informed and contribute to eradicating bonded and forced labor. In particular, students discussed the difficulty in defining human trafficking, recently enacted policy regarding human trafficking, and the impact of advocacy work by religious groups and other institutions. The dinner dialogue concluded with conversation about how students could contribute locally toward ending human trafficking and help those affected. Students mentioned the importance of conducting research to better understand the current realities of trafficking and to inform the public about the complexities of this sensitive issue. Lastly, students acknowledged that advocacy work must focus on the wide variety of obstacles that face victims of human trafficking.

To Top

A Public Sociology of Religion

October 25, 2013

To conclude two days of events focused on religious responses to human trafficking, Prof. Richard Flory presented on “A Public Sociology of Religion” to RPLP Fellows on the morning of Friday, October 25, 2013. Flory had served as a visiting scholar for the Religion and Public Life Program’s panel discussion on human trafficking the day prior, and “A Public Sociology of Religion” helped widen the lens following the intense discussions from that symposium. Its purpose was to provide a framework for student researchers and interested faculty to reflect on how sociologists of religion examine “public” issues like human trafficking. Flory spoke from his experience as Director of Research at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture (CRCC) at USC and, in particular, CRCC's work in Los Angeles over the past several decades. Civic religion, as Flory called the response of religious groups to create a more unified city, has had both success and failure during the past two decades. While the initiative of religious groups in organizing, advocacy, community development, and interfaith dialogue has become a normal part of the civic sphere, there is still work to be done. Flory’s research demonstrates that the efforts of religious groups tend to be collective in a crisis, but can struggle to maintain this collective approach at the conclusion of a unified crisis response effort.

To Top

Religious Responses to Human Trafficking

October 24, 2013
View the photo set »  

Public SociologyOn October 24th students, academics and community members filed into the McMurtry Auditorium on the Rice campus to attend the Religion and Public Life Program’s panel discussion on “Religious Responses to Human Trafficking.” Guest scholars Prof. Kimberly Hoang, Assistant Professor of Sociology and International Studies at Boston College, and Prof. Richard Flory, Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Research at the Center for Religion and Civic Culture at the University of Southern California, served as panelists alongside RPLP Director Prof. Elaine Howard Ecklund. The discussion explored the efforts that religious groups have made to combat human trafficking and their subsequent impact on the issue. As Ecklund noted, human trafficking is an internationally recognized human rights violation that continues to affect all countries and regions of the world. Advocacy groups, governmental agencies, NGO’s and local congregations address the issue from various perspectives and with distinctive approaches. RPLP’s goal in hosting a scholarly discussion on religious responses to human trafficking was to bolster our understanding regarding the complexities of the issue. Flory reiterated the importance of this type of forum when he suggested that it “provides society space to stop and reflect on the situation.” Throughout the discussion, he and Hoang offered interesting insight on human trafficking, particularly within the international context.

Click here to view the video of the event.

To Top

Do Bio-Citizens Have Religious Lives?: The Self, State, and Spirit in Organ Transplants

September 6, 2013
View the photo set »  

Arlene MacDonald eventArlene Macdonald (Assistant Professor, Institute for Medical Humanities, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston) explored the religious lives of organ transplant recipients, discussing the mechanisms by which spiritualized transplant discourses encourage new understandings of citizenship and religiosity. Highlighting both the religious and civic undertones behind organ donation, Macdonald demonstrated how the various celebrations, symbols, and organized activities surrounding organ transplants contribute to new knowledge about those who give, receive, and perform them.