UNI NEWS SERVICE – The University of Northern Iowa is pleased to announce that Michael Graziano, professor of religious studies in the department of philosophy and world religions, has received a $10,000 seed grant from the Whiting Foundation, which will be used to launch a brand-new Religious Literacy Project in Iowa.
Specifically, these funds will be used to organize a professional development seminar to help Iowa public school teachers navigate religion in curriculum and in the classroom.
The initiative was launched in response to K-12 educators’ requests for guidance as Iowa legislature debates introducing a “Bible Literacy” elective in its public schools. As part of the seminar, Graziano and other religious studies scholars will work alongside Iowa teachers to develop and deliver professional development on these topics.
“The idea for this started because I had teachers in public schools in Iowa reaching out to me, and asking me about best practices and laws surrounding teaching religion in the classroom,” Graziano said. “Many teachers are leery about teaching religion because there might be complaints, or they’re unsure of how to approach it. This seminar is a formal response to a real issue brought up by teachers in Iowa.”
Graziano says there is a vast amount of religious diversity in the state – and in the Cedar Valley – and that it’s important to help public school teachers navigate that spectrum.
“In a state where religious diversity is on the rise, this project will offer practical strategies for teaching about religion in a way that is both intellectually rich and constitutionally sound,” he said. “The goal is to empower teachers, and to promote positive social and academic outcomes for students.”
Graziano and a small group of colleagues will kick-off the initiative this summer with a pilot program for the Waterloo Community School District – the first public school partner for the Iowa Religious Literacy Project.
Graziano says he would like to see the program grow and expand around the Cedar Valley area, and the state, with potential to become a national model for other states facing similar situations.
About the Whiting Foundation
The Whiting Public Engagement Programs, including the Public Engagement Fellowship and the Public Engagement Seed Grant, are designed to celebrate and empower humanities faculty who embrace public engagement as part of the scholarly vocation. The programs fund ambitious, often collaborative projects to infuse into public life the richness, profundity, and nuance that give the humanities their lasting value. Over time, we hope the program will also build a community of faculty dedicated to this form of service; underscore just how essential the realm of ideas is in helping us absorb the news of the day, participate as citizens, and live a full life; and ultimately help to restore broader faith in the value of advanced work in the humanities.