A new initiative sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics and the Divinity School will allow students to explore the effects of religion in the public sphere.

The project originated from a comment Laurie Patton, Dean of Arts and Sciences, made to Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Islamic studies and religion, noting the lack of research on connections between religion and other aspects of society. The project developed after Moosa was awarded a public ethics grant from the Kenan Institute and Luke Bretherton, associate professor of theological ethics and senior fellow at the Kenan Institute—whose interests intersected with those of Moosa and Patton— joined them. The initiative will include a series of lectures focusing on the public effects of religion and a Divinity School course—REL 999.08: “A Paradoxical Politics? Religions, Poverty & Re-Imagining Citizenship in a Globalizing World”—exploring religion in an interdisciplinary way. The course will be co-taught by Moosa and Bretherton.

“The thrust of the course is on the question of poverty, citizenship and globalization,” Moosa said. “There is a kind of paradox in politics and religion: the more we globalize, the more alienated we’re becoming.”

Moosa noted that the course will look at this question on both the national and international level, citing the Middle East and the Occupy Movement as examples of this paradoxical phenomenon. He also emphasized that although the class itself is geared towards graduate students, he hopes that the initiative will encourage a campus-wide response.

“We are hoping that this will create phenomenal energy on campus,” Moosa said. “We really want to invite undergraduates in particular to come to these public lectures, learn and ask questions in their own work and to have a sense of what is going on in a very important part of our global and national discourse.”

Stephen Nowicki, dean and vice provost of undergraduate education, noted that undergraduate students can benefit from taking part in the initiative and involvement with the Divinity School.

“I think it’s a good start to have it grounded in divinity graduate training,” he said. “I do know that the Divinity School likes to reach out to undergraduates.”

Suzanne Shanahan, acting director of the Kenan Insitute, noted that she hopes the initiative’s scope will extend beyond Duke’s campus, targeting not just the University community but the greater Durham area as well.

“The hope is that Duke will be a central node in this increasingly vibrant national conversation,” Shanahan said.

Ultimately, the initiative is meant to facilitate the study of religion in innovative ways that will both increase public interest in religion and introduce new methods of study for scholars in the field, Moosa said. The course is designed to show how, even on a small scale, religion impacts the lives of every day people.

“People go to a hospital, and they take their medication, but they also pray,” said Moosa. “Religion always comes across in people’s lives in very mixed categories and crossed wires. What we tried to do in this class is lift up the veil and show why they cross.”

Moosa also noted that he hoped the lectures will bring forth a combination of secular and religious opinions.

“This is not only meant for religious people,” said Moosa. “All kinds of viewpoints are welcome in this conversation.”