The Interreligious Studies Network (IRSN) was founded in 2019 as a community focused on teaching and learning about religion in order to confront 21st century issues including climate change, religious violence, religious illiteracy, and technology’s role in shaping our future.
Like many disciplines in the humanities, religious studies faces a number of challenges related to long-standing crisis in higher education. Our field has always struggled to explain our academic mission to a public that conflates our work with confessional approaches or training for a religious vocation. Religious studies, we often say, is not theology. Implied in this claim is that by teaching about religion we are somehow less biased or that we can and should be neutral.
I think that today we need instead to forcefully articulate our discipline’s mission and identify the skills we aim to develop in our students to effect change. Confronting hatred and intolerance is not bias-free. If through the academy our field is unable to make such claims, then we need to forge ahead with the work that needs to be done. In brief:
Interreligious studies is critically-supported. We deny that any group has an insurmountable claim to truth and our students must have a strong theoretical framework with which to understand truth-claims.
Interreligious studies is dialogue-focused. We affirm that getting along is hard work made easier by cultivating empathy and compassion.
Interreligious studies is problem-centered and solution-hungry. We believe that no problem our world faces can only be solved with a single solution. We will use every tool and reject no method or partners whose aims promote peace or strive for broader visions of justice and equity for all peoples.
Interreligious studies is not concerned with defining religion, seeking the origins of religion, or proving religion’s uniqueness as a phenomenon. We do not do academic work for the sake of the academy but rather for the sake of humanity. Our work should have clearly expressed and ideally actionable goals.
Interreligious studies is open to all who seek a way forward where we work together, affirm our shared humanity, and won’t let go of the possibility of being the change we wish to see in the world.
We are here to help you see the world through another’s eyes, not because it is easy but because it is so hard. Let’s work together to find common ground and higher purpose in and out of the academy.