Religious literacy and negotiation
How might religious studies scholars uniquely contribute to the management and resolution of conflicts? What role might they play in fraught negotiations? A recent article published by the Religion News Service highlights one valuable contribution religious studies scholars can make to the field of conflict resolution: teaching religious literacy to negotiators themselves. Drawing on lessons learned from the Waco/Branch Davidian disaster of 1993, scholar and author Cathy Lynn Grossman articulates the dire need for "Religion 101" classes for those on the "front lines"-- which, in the case of Waco, was the FBI negotiation team. As she succinctly states, "call in religion experts in a crisis where faith is a factor."
In the nearly 25 years since Waco, the American Academy of Religion (AAR) has ensured that scholars are available to advise government negotiators on issues of faith and worldview conflict:
Since [Waco], AAR scholars have advised the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group when dissident religious groups that are not generally well-understood come into conflict with law enforcement. Scholars also work with the FBI’s National Academy to equip new agents with a wider range of religious understanding.
While this is certainly progress, Grossman also points out the limitations of what has thus far been achieved. She points to the varying opinions on what form a religious literacy curriculum ought to take, identifying race and current religio-political tensions as factors strongly influencing this indecision.
In a future post, I will discuss what exactly it is that religious studies scholars can uniquely bring to the negotiation table, drawing on Jayne Seminare Docherty's valuable concept of "worldview translation" (see below). In the meantime, please review this page to learn more about how religious literacy training can benefit your practice or workplace.
For further reading on this fascinating topic, check out these two books (one of which is co-edited by a former professor of mine at Northwestern University, Sylvester A. Johnson):
The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11, co-edited by Sylvester A. Johnson and Steven Weitzman (2017)
Learning Lessons from Waco: When Parties Bring Their Gods to the Negotiation Table, by Jayne Seminare Docherty (2001)