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UI Student Explores Incorporating Religious Literacy in the Workplace

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UI Student Explores Incorporating Religious Literacy in the Workplace

Every year, students affiliated with the Martin Institute at the University of Idaho participate in the Student Conference on Religion in the Public Sphere (SCRIPS) at BYU. SCRIPS is organized by the Wheatley Institute, which brings together religiously diverse expert mentors with students from across the country for discussion and project development in a roundtable setting. Roundtables at this year’s SCRIPS focused on some aspect of religious pluralism in a variety of contexts, and authors in this article series in FāVS share their experiences while detailing the projects they and their peers developed.

UI’s Martin Institute is a teaching, research and outreach entity focused on the causes of war, the conditions necessary for peace and the international system.  

Guest Column by Maggie Hunter

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In February, a group of 40 university students from across the country gathered in a quiet Utah mountain retreat to discuss the role of religion in politics. 

Five groups were each assigned a different topic, led by an expert in the field, with the goal of developing some sort of policy or project proposal. The seven students in my group were from vastly different backgrounds, with hometowns stretching from Portland to Washington D.C.

When I read that my topic was about religion in business, the academic inside me sighed. I am a public relations and international studies major, with little interest in business. 

Yet, as I began my preparatory readings, I discovered that my group leader, Paul Lambert, was more sensible than I had originally thought. Paul runs a consulting firm to aid top companies in workplace accommodation, with clients ranging from the World Bank to Georgetown University to the U.S. Army. 

The Workplace Is a Mini-Democracy

We began with the central thesis that business is a microcosm of democracy. Everything is a company (even churches, schools and government agencies), and employees must all go in to work towards a common goal. Many Americans aren’t exposed to such high levels of diversity in any other setting compared to the workplace, but each employee must set aside their differences in order to do their job.

While diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives are radiating into large and small companies alike, religion is severely underrepresented in these initiatives at a ratio of 34:1. It is often still the expectation to “leave religion in your place of worship,” not only in American offices but in the democratic public sphere as well. An employer wouldn’t ask their employees to leave their racial, sexual or gender identity at home, yet diminishing religious identity can lead employees to feel that a piece of their core is absent.

Our goal was to develop a project proposal to incorporate religious literacy into the workplace. When employees feel that they can bring their “whole selves” to work, they are more motivated, talent recruitment is easier and businesses experience lower turnover rates, bearing more profits. In addition, it is better for brand image because customers like to spend their money on companies that support their employees. 

Seek. Ask. Act. Enact.

To encourage this, our team developed a toolkit targeted at managers who could in turn supply the information to their employees. The guiding principles were:

  1. See. Notice what is going on in the employee’s life.
  2. Ask. From a place of understanding, engage with the employee.
  3. Act. Help the employee find reasonable accommodation if needed.
  4. Enact. Create tangible policies and systems to prevent religious discrimination.

The toolkit would also be filled with activities, discussion questions and more, with options for paid consulting or corporate retreats. 

The overarching goal is that as employees appreciate religious diversity in the workplace, these attitudes will cascade into settings outside of the office. It’s more than tolerance or coexistence, its advocacy for the religious rights and freedoms of coworkers, neighbors and strangers alike.

Though I doubted the importance of my roundtable initially, I am coming to understand how valuable the implications are. Given that I am an international studies major, this helped me to frame how to respect new cultures. While I may not always understand them or agree with them, I can still recognize them and value them.

I likely will never be a C-suite executive implementing this toolkit at my Fortune 500 company. However, like many Americans, I will interact with other cultures in the democratic sphere. And if we wish for our democracy to thrive, then we are compelled to welcome others — inviting them to bring their whole selves.

Maggie Hunter
Maggie Hunter
Maggie Hunter is a freshman majoring in international studies and public relations at the University of Idaho. A proud Vandal and member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Maggie loves traveling, skiing, whitewater rafting and cooking.

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