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One of the RPLP’s primary goals is to facilitate informed and productive dialogue about religious issues. It is important, therefore, to provide opportunities not only to listen to experts on such issues, but to take part in the discussions. To that end, the RPLP organizes less formal conversations that enable interested parties to speak with and learn from others with like interests and, often, different perspectives. Some conversations involve students and their peers; others leaders of religious communities and other community members. All are designed to equip participants with the skills, knowledge, and experience to productively discuss religion. Student fellows, in particular, enjoy frequent opportunities to dialogue with religious leaders and other community leaders. In the past they have, for example, conversed with Dr. Mahmoud El-Gamal about Islamic economics and with Rabbi Samuel Karff about religion and medicine.


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.


Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Religion and Immigration

April 10, 2013

RPLP student fellows hosted a dinner dialogue for undergraduates following the RPLP's symposium on religion and immigration. The purpose of the event was to discuss related issues in the context of current events and personal experiences. This dialogue, the second of its kind for RPLP, included Rice students from several religious backgrounds. The event continued RPLP's effort to engage more of the undergraduate student body in civil dialogue. Similar in breadth to the symposium with Professors Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo and Sergio Chavez, the dinner dialogue encompassed a variety of topics. Students began by discussing the impact of immigration on diversity in America, particularly since most immigrants are from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, not Europe. While Hindu, Buddhist, and Muslim communities have certainly grown over the past several decades, one student noted that the majority of immigrants tend to be Christian. He added that the influx of Catholic immigrants from Latin America has contributed to a more internally diverse American Catholicism. Another student pointed out that many religious organizations and denominations publicly advocate for immigration reform, perhaps due to the active participation of immigrants within their communities and organizations. She added, "I find this interesting given that many religious denominations tend to remain more conservative on political issues."

Undergraduate Dinner Dialogue on Religion and Gender Equality

March 18, 2013

In response to a symposium on religion and gender equality convened by the Religion and Public Life Program on March 15, several RPLP student fellows hosted an inaugural dinner dialogue for undergraduates to discuss related issues in the context of current and historical events and personal experiences. Over dinner, more than a dozen students with a variety of faith perspectives talked candidly about how religion influences family life, leadership opportunities for women, and gender roles in the public sphere. The dinner dialogue covered a range of topics; students discussed, among other things, gender roles in churches, patriarchal family structures, and the politics surrounding the Muslim hijab, or face veil. Students explored the concept of a “glass ceiling” within churches, noting official and unofficial means by which women are denied certain leadership positions. The students agreed, however, that patriarchy is not specific to religious institutions, citing examples of patriarchal practices in other social spheres.


Religious Leaders’ Roundtable on Religion and Education

November 4, 2011

At Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, religious leaders from various Houston ministries met with professors George Marsden of the University of Notre Dame and John Schmalzbauer of Missouri State University to discuss how churches can better prepare students in their congregations for the transition to college. Participants honed in on the importance of the social dimension of faith and on ways churches can work with universities and campus ministries to make religion accessible to students. The RPLP believes that working with religious leaders to understand the challenges faced by their congregants is key to ensuring that religion is a constructive force in public life.

A Conversation with Students and Scholars on Religion and Academic Life

November 4, 2011

RPLP Director Elaine Howard Ecklund and Undergraduate Research Fellow Parker Eudy interviewed George Marsden and John Schmalzbauer at an Intro to the Study of Religion (RELI 101) class, allowing students to pose questions to the visiting scholars.

A Conversation on Religion and Conflict Resolution

October 14, 2011

The RPLP hopes that the student Fellows who work with the RPLP will be leaders in promoting productive dialogue about religious issues. Recognizing that conversations about religion are often divisive, the RPLP hosted a workshop in which Fellows interacted with Randy Butler, Executive Director of the Institute for Sustainable Peace. Together, Butler and the students discussed ways researchers can move beyond intellectual understanding of religious conflicts to facilitating meaningful dialogue between groups. Among the ideas discussed was to highlight commonalities, not differences, including commonalities that are not specific to the issue that represents the source of conflict.


Religious Leader’s Roundtable on Genetic Technologies

March 15, 2011

Why aren’t congregational leaders more involved in discussions about new reproductive technologies? Instead of speculating, the RPLP, which takes as part of its mission the facilitation of productive conversations about such issues, arranged a forum through which religious leaders could speak for themselves. In dialogue with Professor John Evans, associate professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego and author of Playing God? Human Genetic Engineering and the Rationalization of Public Bioethical Debate, a diverse group of community leaders, scholars, and students concluded that, for better or worse, leaders of typical American congregations have more pressing concerns and lack the time to become conversant in complex public issues. Nonetheless, the discussion enabled those present to more capably raise such issues in their own ecclesiological contexts.