One Nation, Many Beliefs: Talking about Religion in a Diverse Democracy

Publication date – 2011 (Pilot version)
Developed by – Everyday Democracy


Aims, objectives, and intended audience

One Nation, Many Beliefs is designed as a part of Everyday Democracy’s large-scale dialogue-to-change programs. It aims to assist communities in making decisions regarding how to address issues related to religion. The dialogue guide “is designed to strengthen relationships and understanding across religious and philosophical perspectives as a foundation for talking about intergroup tensions and the role of religion in public decision making” (page 3). The intended audience includes participants from all walks of life, including community leaders.

Broad structure and key educational methods

The guide embraces a small-group structure in which 8-12 people from diverse backgrounds gather for a series of 6-7 sessions lasting two-hours each. Session 1 (Making Connections) is a two part session lasting a combined total of four hours. Ideally, the group would complete both the A and B portions of the session; however, in the case of time constraints, facilitators may choose between the two options based on what they believe to be most appropriate for their community. Four hours are also devoted to session 3 (What is the Nature of the Challenges We’re Facing), which is divided into two portions.

Key educational methods include the use of scenarios to prompt discussion and several brainstorming activities. An optional Action Forum in which participants share the action ideas that emerged from the dialogues and form task forces to pursue these ideas may also follow the dialogue series.

Key topics or themes by module

1. Session 1A: Making Connections

This session opens with brief introductions and the collective establishment of some ground rules to guide group interactions. The discussion questions in this session invite participants to share about their religious or philosophical views, stages or moments in life when those views were at a turning point, how these views affect their values as a community member, and the role of race, gender, and/or ethnicity play in shaping participants’ views. The overarching aim is to help participants see the connections they share with each other and with the topic at hand.

2. Session 1B: Making Connections

After reviewing some terms and discussing different possible definitions, this session turns to cultural storytelling. Each participant shares about an item they brought with them that relates to their religious or philosophical beliefs or background. A subsequent exercise explores the stereotypes and labels that are commonly associated with religious or philosophical groups, and the ensuing conversation assesses participants’ reactions to hearing the labels and stereotypes, as well as uncovers the commonalities that exist.

3. Session 2: Exploring Our Values

Half of the time for this session is devoted to an exercise in which the facilitator reads statements and participants then locate themselves along a strongly agree to strongly disagree spectrum. These prompts address topics such as one’s comfort with aspects of their own religious beliefs and the beliefs of others, the positive or negative implications of religion’s place in a society, and the extent to which religious beliefs should shape politics and policy. The discussion then turns to the values that participants hold that influenced their responses to the previous activity, highlighting common values as they emerge.

4. Session 3A: What is the Nature of the Challenges We’re Facing?

This session focuses on the question of why tensions exist between different religious and philosophical groups. The dialogue guide provides eight short paragraphs that represent possible responses to this question. Participants are asked to identify which viewpoint most closely aligns with theirs, as well as the one that is most divergent. Following this, participants are exposed eight short cases that make them think about how religious and philosophical beliefs can affect communities, politics, and policy, thus inviting them to consider a wide range of issues related to this topic.

5. Session 3B: What is the Nature of the Challenges We’re Facing?

Opening with a short discussion of the First Amendment and its significance in light of the dialogue conversation thus far, the question of why tensions surround religion in the context of public decisions is key in this session. In a structure similar to Session 3A, this dialogue centers on eight short responses to this question. Participants indicate which response(s) are closest to their own and which response(s) represent viewpoints that differ most significantly.

6. Session 4: How Are We Doing?

Drawing on the values list created in session 2, the opening activity is the formulation of the group’s vision for the community ten years from now. The main activity of this session focuses on the completion and associated discussion of a Report Card that “grades” how well various religious and philosophical groups are treated in the community. The categories for grading range from personal perceptions (i.e., tolerance, interfaith collaboration) to more structural factors (i.e., education, social services, employment). With a moving-to-action mindset, the group identifies the area(s) on which they would like to focus their energy and brainstorms specific action ideas.

7. Session 5: How Can We Make Progress?

After reviewing the list of possible action ideas, the group compiles a list of community assets, meaning the people, places, and/or institutions that positively benefit the community; they then identify the linkages between action ideas and corresponding assets. The participants then narrow this list and select three ideas to present at a community-wide Action Forum or to otherwise address in subsequent meetings beyond this dialogue. They discuss what must be done on each action idea in order to achieve the vision they articulated in the previous session.

8. Optional follow-up: Action Forum

An Action Forum is a large community gathering in which dialogue participants share the main ideas that emerged from the various dialogue groups and form task forces to pursue the action ideas.

Curriculum acquisition information

This dialogue guide is available as a free download on Everyday Democracy’s Issue Guide Exchange. Accessing the document requires registering for a free account.

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