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Case Studies for Exploring Interfaith Cooperation: Classroom Tools

Introduction and Purpose

Even as public discourse about religious belonging, identity, and diversity in the United States remains divisive, such tensions can seem remote in a classroom full of relatively tolerant American college students, many of whom are often uncomfortable talking about religion. This is largely due to the fact that students have not had the opportunity to talk about religion or religious ideas outside the private sphere, if at all. For faculty interested in teaching courses that touch on topics such as religious diversity, pluralism, or interfaith relations, it can be challenging to help students see how public discourse around religious issues relates to them and to provide meaningful learning opportunities in which they can imagine themselves as participants in this discourse.

Case studies offer one interactive pedagogical method for engaging students around the real-life challenges of religious diversity. Using case studies to explore interreligious tensions or cooperation provides an opportunity for students to identify the complex ways that religious diversity plays out in a given situation, analyze the responses of various actors in such situations, and demonstrate application of theories they have been learning about to concrete situations. As such, students’ responses to the case studies can serve as a formative assessment tool to measure student learning.

This toolkit provides several case studies and a guide for use in the classroom. Inspired by the case studies developed by Harvard University’s Pluralism Project (, these cases aim to put students at the center of decision making and problem solving, asking them to consider their own agency in contributing to religious pluralism. Researched and written by Karla Suomala, Associate Professor of Religion at Luther College, and developed in partnership with Interfaith Youth Core, these cases are a complimentary pedagogical tool to use alongside lectures or presentations. These cases will fit quite naturally in courses touching on religion in America, interfaith topics, religious diversity, or introductory religion courses, but will also be useful in courses beyond religious studies that include a unit or focus on religious diversity or pluralism.