Web project protects religious pluralism
By KAREN ANNE WEBB
OGDEN -- Everyone knows that Utah is home to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Most know the state also is home to various other Christian denominations and to members of the Jewish faith.
But how many know that Sikhs, practitioners of Cao Dai, Muslims, practitioners of many American Indian traditions, Hindus, Baha"is and several varieties of Buddhists also call Utah home?
Scoping out the religious landscape of Utah and fostering a spirit of amity and understanding among the members of this diverse group is the passion of Dr. Brian Davis, who directs the MBA program at Weber State University. "It"s really a hobby with me," he said modestly of his knowledge of religion. But when his wife and three children, his job and his faculty obligations (he advises WSU"s Muslim student group) aren"t occupying him, he"s pounding the pavements all over the Wasatch Front and visiting the activities of nearly every group represented in the entire state.
"It"s like with the new Cao Dai group," he said. "I"ll hear a rumor that there"s a new congregation meeting in one part of the area, then hop in my car and drive around till I find it. It"s like doing detective work. I love it."
Putting his knowledge base to work for the community, Davis has, in the past year or so, become a researcher for the Pluralism Project.
This program, aimed at fostering ties of amity by fostering understanding among the country"s religious communities, began in the early "90s. It was developed by Diana L. Eck at Harvard University to study and document the growing religious diversity of the United States, with a special view to its new immigrant religious communities.
"In the past 30 years," Eck writes, "the religious landscape of the U.S. has changed radically . . . How Americans of all faiths begin to engage with one another in shaping a positive pluralism is one of the most important questions American society faces in the years ahead."
While cruising the Web one day, Davis came across the Pluralism Project"s site and was immediately ensnared. "I thought something like this needed to be established in Utah," he recalled.
The main site, which is hosted by Harvard, had a page that discussed grant applications. He applied not to ask for money but to offer to become their first Utah research affiliate.
"Although the focus of the Pluralism Project does tend to be investigating how the practice of religion changes when a person immigrates here from another country, I chose to do kind of a broad sweep: to catalogue what religious communities exist in Utah, which I"m really still doing. I figured that, to foster understanding among different religious communities, you first have to enumerate what those communities are."
Today, Davis maintains Utah"s one and only site that functions as an affiliate of the Harvard program. He tries to make sure every faith or religious community he includes on the site is presented fairly and accurately.
"I think it"s great to have input from the practitioners themselves," he quipped. The main thrust of the site at this point is the presentation of the basic facts of each faith as well as the maintenance of up-to-date calendars on each group"s public activities.
The Pluralism Project is one of a number of activities that come under the umbrella of WSU"s Center for Religion and Ethics.
The "umbrella" of the Center for Religion and Ethics covers programs that interrelate with the Pluralism Project: the weekly Religion and Ethics Forum, a number of interfaith reading groups, and a speakers" bureau.
Said Dr. Sandra Powell, coordinator for WSU"s women"s studies program and a frequent participant in the reading groups, "Brian has lots of energy and commitment. Although he"s not a minister, he kind of ministers to the campus."
See the Utah affiliate site of the Pluralism Project at http://www.weber.edu/davis/pluralism/default.htm.
©Copyright 2002, Standard Examiner (UT)