Naturalization ceremony at the US Archives

The United States is currently roiled by debates over immigration. Americans bitterly disagree about the best ways to address the flow of people seeking residence in this nation and the place of recent immigrants and refugees in our society. Though the United States is a nation of immigrants, it has never consistently welcomed newcomers to its shores. On the contrary, many refugees and immigrants have faced significant antagonism driven by anxieties about national security, the economy, and changing cultural norms. In some cases governmental agencies and their non-governmental partners work hard to mitigate that antagonism; in other cases, they actively fuel it.

The Religious Literacy Project (RLP) contends that religious literacy is an essential component of cultural competence. It follows that a robust understanding of culture and a sophisticated grasp of the changing nature of political power require that we consider how religion is embedded in any given cultural moment. In this symposium, the Religious Literacy and the Professions Initiative (RLPI) considers how religion is embedded in both constructive and antagonistic approaches to immigration, especially with respect to work undertaken by (or in collaboration with) governmental agencies. We believe that when people understand the vital, but often unacknowledged, role religion plays in political and cultural endeavors we gain tools to make better-informed decisions about our public life and common good. In light of the Religious Literacy Project’s mission to build a more just and equitable world, the goal of this symposium is to understand the complicated roles religions play in our nation's multifaceted debate over immigration and to determine how such an understanding may help government agencies better foster the constructive and humane integration of immigrants and refugees into our communities.

The Symposium on Religious Literacy and Government: Refugee and Immigration Issues, was held at Harvard Divinity School on December 7-8, 2017. Videos of the keynote address and all panel discussions may be found here