Intergroup Dialogue and Religious Identity: Addressing Christian Privilege and Religious Oppression in US Higher Education

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Edwards, Sachi Teresa
Lin, Jing
Interfaith initiatives are increasingly prevalent on college and university campuses around the country. In large part, this trend responds both to ongoing religious violence throughout the world and to increasing religious tension in the United States. The goal of these interfaith initiatives is to increase awareness of different religious identities and to bolster interfaith collaboration. For this research, I analyze a campus-based, curricular interfaith dialogue program that utilizes the Intergroup Dialogue (IGD) pedagogy to increase student understanding of privilege, oppression, and social injustice pertaining to religious identity. This project represents one of the first known empirical studies of religion-themed IGD, as current literature predominately focuses on race and gender. Using qualitative research methods including participant-observation, in-depth interviews, informal interviews, and document analysis, I present a multiple case study of three undergraduate interfaith dialogue courses. Findings suggest that (a) religious minority students are easily marginalized in the IGD process; (b) Christian privilege is a difficult concept for both students and dialogue facilitators to comprehend, even for those who readily recognize other forms of privilege (i.e., White, male, heterosexual); and (c) religious identity is also a difficult concept for both students and dialogue facilitators to understand because they think of religion as a set of philosophical beliefs, rather than as a social identity deeply intertwined with one's culture. Implications for research and theory include (a) the need to further advance theoretical discourse related to Christian privilege and religious identity, (b) the importance of expanding educational initiatives seeking to promote awareness and understanding of these issues, and (c) the obligation for interfaith dialogue practitioners, faculty, and other higher education professionals to be more sensitive to the experiences of students with minority religious identities.