Religions and Public Life at the Kenan Institute for Ethics explores the role of religions in historical and cultural context as they influence the lives of their adherents, interact with each other across time and geography, and contribute to the formation of institutions that make up the public sphere. This year, twelve Religions and Public Life Graduate Fellows have been selected from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill to be a part of an interdisciplinary working group to engage questions regarding the place of religion in contemporary social and political life. In response to global shifts of 2022, this year’s theme will be “Religion, Peace and War.”
On the working group’s focus, Professor Malachi Hacohen notes, “At a time when borders are closing and walls are being erected, an interdisciplinary graduate student group is responding with a model of collaboration for our world. Bringing together students from Divinity and the Graduate School, and with campus wide support from the Kenan Institute for Ethics, Center for Jewish Studies, Duke Islamic Studies Center, and Duke University Middle East Studies Center, graduate students studying divergent regions of the globe will explore the relationship between immigration and religion, seeking religious paths to the reconstruction of human life.” Over the course of the academic year, the cohort will discuss and develop their respective projects, providing each other with mutual support and opportunities for collaboration. Their work will be shared on the Religions and Public Life website at the conclusion of the fellowship.
Previous years’ themes include “Immigration and Religion” (2020-22), “Church and State” (2019-20), “Pain and Joy: Polemics and Praise in Religious Communities” (2018-19), and “Minorities and Diasporas” (2017-18).
Each year, 15 Kenan Graduate Fellows are selected to be part of an interdisciplinary research community focused on significant normative questions. This year’s cohort comes from Ph.D. programs in five faculties/schools, and 10 different departments at Duke. They will meet throughout the year with the general aim of enhancing each other’s ability to contribute to debates involving ethical issues, and to do so in ways that engage scholars and others within, and especially outside, their own academic disciplines. Professor Wayne Norman, who directs the Graduate Fellows program, notes that “This year’s Fellows all face a double challenge. They were selected because they are each tackling timely – and often timeless – questions in their Ph.D. dissertations: political polarization, diversity and inclusion in higher education, religion and violence, global inequality, and sources of bias in moral reasoning from law to political science. But they are also trying to make sense of our world and their own career paths as we struggle to climb out of a global pandemic.”
Some students, from disciplines such as philosophy, political theory, or theology, focus directly on fundamental ethical or political concepts and theories. Other Fellows, from the sciences and social sciences, try to understand phenomena that are relevant to major, and often controversial, public-policy debates. Still others attempt to resolve debates in their areas of research that seem to be sustained by long-standing disagreements over both empirical claims and ethical or ideological commitments.