Religion and the Public University Collaborative

Religion, Public Education, and Diversity:
A Pre-Conference Colloquium

Friday, April 9 • 9:15 am to 4:30 pm (CDT)   |   Zoom Registration Link  |  This colloquium is free and open to the public

We will record these sessions and make them available on the RPUC Homepage

This event is hosted in collaboration with the Upper Midwest American Academy of Religion Regional Conference, April 10, 2021.  Registration information and fees for the UMAAR conference are available here:

Original Call for Proposal available here:

RPUC Colloquium Sponsors


The presence of religion on college and university campuses has undergone significant change in the 21st century as our student and faculty populations have become more religiously diverse and as the historical predominance of Christianity has shrunk. At the same time, the claiming of personal and group identity as a means of empowerment has grown, and religious (and non-religious) identity is afforded increasing significance in the intersectional selves of students, faculty, and staff.  As various groups (religious, spiritual, and non- or anti-religious) struggle for acknowledgement, understanding, and accommodation on our campuses, the institutional stakes involved in addressing the role of religion are rising.

How should public universities navigate the complexities, contentions, and opportunities of religion and spirituality on campus as it engages its students, faculty and staff? This colloquium brings together faculty leaders and scholars in the field of religious studies with administrators from several public institutions in the midwest to discuss this question and the changing role of religion on our campuses. Formatted as a colloquium, this event welcomes our audience members as participants in these conversations.

About the Religion and the Public University Collaborative

The Religion and the Public University Collaborative (RPUC), hosted by the Institute for Advanced Study at the University of Minnesota, uses the tools of academic research and knowledge production to address questions and issues that arise at the intersections of religious freedom, academic freedom, and church-state separation on these and other public university campuses.

Members of the RPUC meet regularly to discuss ideas and readings on the above-mentioned topics, organize conversations across university communities, and develop events related to religion and the public university. More information is at:


All events will take place via Zoom.

9:15 to 9:30 am Welcome, Introductions, Colloquium Goals

Co-Chairs: Jeanne Kilde and Virajita Singh (University of Minnesota)

9:30 to 10:45 am Religious Studies Department/Program Heads Roundtable on Religion and Public University

Richard Bohannon, Metropolitan State University, Moderator

Erin Darby, University of Tennessee

Susan Hill, University of Northern Iowa

Junaid Quadri, University of Illinois at Chicago

Susan B. Ridgley, University of Wisconsin

10:45 to 11:00 am Break

11:00 to 12:30 pm Administrative and Institutional Roundtable on Religion and Public University

Virajita Singh, University of Minnesota, Moderator

Vince Diaz, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Penny Edgell, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Michael Graziano, University of Northern Iowa

Alexander Hines, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

Natan Paradise, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities

12:30 to 1:15 pm Lunch & Conversational Breakout Rooms

1:15 to 2:30 pm Secularity, Religion, and the Public University (Paper Session)

Moderator:  Elizabethada Wright, University of Minnesota – Duluth

David Beard, University of Minnesota – Duluth  |  Faculty Religious Identity in the Cosmopolitan University

David Gore, University of Minnesota – Duluth  |  The Secular University: Permanence and Change

Robert Osburn, Wilberforce Academy  |  Is a Pluralistic Curriculum Better Suited to the Exploration of the Big Questions?

Travis Pickell, Anselm House  |  Postsecular Secularity and the Public University

2:30 to 2:45 pm Break

2:45 to 3:45 pm Keynote Address

Presiding: Jeanne Kilde, University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

Michael Waggoner, University of Northern Iowa  |  Re-negotiating Religion’s Role(s) in the New Educational Commons

3:45 to 4:30 pm Culminating Discussion of all Participants

Presenter Bios

David Beard is Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Minnesota Duluth, where he works on rhetoric, listening, and many cool topics.  With David Gore and with Kevin Brooks, he has published on Marshall McLuhan (in part addressing the Catholic strand of thought in McLuhan’s media theory).

Richard Bohannon is a cartographer and sociologist of religion, and an Assistant Professor of Individualized and Interdisciplinary Studies at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, MN.  His current research and work focus on the narrative role of maps, religious and otherwise.

Erin Darby is Associate Professor of Early Judaism in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She is a specialist in ancient Near Eastern religion and an active field archaeologist working in Israel and Jordan. In addition to running a number of community outreach initiatives in East Tennessee, Erin serves as the chair of the Chancellor’s Council for Diversity and Inclusion, and she partners with the UTK Division of Diversity and Engagement to work on a range of religious diversity initiatives on campus. She also leads professional development sessions focusing on religious diversity in the workplace. 

Vicente M. Diaz (Pohnpeian and Filipino, from Guam), Associate Professor of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota. Diaz researches and teaches in the area of comparative and global indigenous studies, and specializes in histories of political and cultural revitalization and survival in the Pacific islands, and since joining the UMN Twin Cities, heads the Native Canoe Program, that uses traditional indigenous watercraft and traditional knowledge for community-engaged research, teaching, and building. He is the author of Repositioning the Missionary: Rewriting the Histories of Colonialism, Native Catholicism,  and Indigeneity in Guam (UHawaii Press, 2010),  co-editor, with J. Kehaulani Kauanui, of Native Pacific Cultural Studies special issue of The Contemporary Pacific, and producer and director of Sacred Vessels: Navigating Tradition and Identity in Micronesia (1997).

Penny Edgell is a cultural sociologist who studies contemporary American religion and nonreligion.  Her books include Religion is Raced (co-edited with Grace Yukich, 2020, NYU), Religion and Family in a Changing Society (2005, Princeton), Congregations in Conflict (1999, Cambridge), and Contemporary American Religion (co-edited with Nancy Eiesland, 1997, AltaMira). Her work has appeared in the American Sociological Review, Social ForcesSocial ProblemsJournal for the Scientific Study of ReligionAnnual Review of Sociology, and other outlets. A Professor of Sociology at the University of Minnesota, she has served as Director of Graduate Studies in that department and as Associate Dean for Social Sciences in the university’s College of Liberal Arts.

David Gore is Professor and Department Head in the Department of Communication at the University of Minnesota in Duluth. Gore regularly teaches courses on the history and theory of rhetoric, including its application to globalization and Stoic philosophy. His research explores the age-old trio of rhetoric, politics, and theology in order to illuminate the communicative ethics found in their interrelationships. By engaging politics and religion and faith and reason, Gore’s scholarship addresses why building strong communities and strong commitments to the sacred remain relevant in a secular age. His work has appeared in Philosophy & RhetoricArgumentation & AdvocacyDialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, and a variety of other venues.

Michael Graziano is an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Northern Iowa. His research and teaching focus on law, education, and national security in American religion. His book Errand into the Wilderness of Mirrors: Religion and the History of the CIA will be published by the University of Chicago Press in 2021. In the Cedar Falls-Waterloo community, he also leads the IRL Project, a religious literacy program for Iowa public school teachers beginning in Summer 2021. 

Susan Hill is Head of the Department of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI). Before becoming department head, she was the Founding Director of UNI’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.  Her research interests in the field of religious studies focus primarily on the intersections between religious belief and cultural expression, and she has published articles on the authors George Eliot and Willa Cather, translation theory, pedagogy.  She is also the author of Eating to Excess: The Meaning of Gluttony and the Fat Body in the Ancient World (Praeger, 2011). 

Alexander Hines currently serves as the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & President’s Emerging Scholars Programs in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Alexander is a native of Spartanburg SC, served 15 years in the United States Air Force and is entering his 29th year in higher education. Alexander is a proud first-generation college student and earned a B.S. in Management Studies from the University of Maryland, University College, European Division, and a M.Ed. in Counseling and Guidance Services from Clemson University. He has co-authored several published articles and two book chapters. Additionally, he serves and has served on various national, regional and local boards, and is the associate editor of an on-line journal. Alexander’s favorite quote is by the late Dr. Asa Hilliard – “When you begin to do things that raise the achievement of the poorest and disenfranchised students, you may not always get applause. You need to be ready for that.”

Jeanne Halgren Kilde is the Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Minnesota and co-chair of the Religion and the Public University collaborative. Her primary research focuses on religious space and architecture, an area in which she has published two books and several articles. She has also published a history of religion and liberal arts education at Macalester College, Nature and Revelation (University of Minnesota Press, 2010). Kilde co-directs the “Houses of Worship in the Twin Cities” project, documenting and mapping the historical religious landscape of Minneapolis and St. Paul as a means to understanding religious diversity during the period of early immigration. Her teaching explores theoretical and methodological issues related to the study of religions and the history of religious diversity in the U.S. 

Robert Osburn studies, writes, and teaches about international development, comparative worldviews, corruption, education policy, and wealth creation.  He is a Senior Fellow with Wilberforce International Institute, which he founded in 2009 and which trains international students to develop faith-based solutions to problems in society.  For seven years he was an adjunct in the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development, where he taught courses on religion and educational policy and religion and international development.  He has a PhD in comparative and international development education from the University of Minnesota, a ThM from Dallas Seminary, and a BA from the University of Michigan. He is the author of Taming the Beast: Can We Bridle the Culture of Corruption? (2016).

Natan Paradise is the Associate Director of the University of Minnesota Center for Jewish Studies, where he also serves as the Director of Undergraduate Studies. He teaches the required introductory course to the Jewish studies major in addition to courses focusing on modern Jewish culture in the United States. His background also includes twenty years’ experience in academic advising, curriculum development, and academic policy. He is currently working on a book that takes jokes from the repertoire of Jewish American humor and expands them into fictional narratives that elucidate the complex status and identity of Jews in America.

Travis Pickell is Associate Director of University Engagement at Anselm House. He is a scholar of religious ethics, with a particular focus on the intersection of religion, medicine, and society. Some of his other interests include the impact of modernity on religious belief and practices, issues of pluralism and public life, and Christian theological ethics. Before coming to Anselm House, he taught in the departments of Religious Studies and Philosophy at the University of Virginia. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia, M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary, and B.A. from The College of William & Mary.

Junaid Quadri is Associate Professor of History and Director of Religious Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he teaches courses in Islamic thought, Middle Eastern history and modernity and colonialism in the Muslim world. His research attempts to better understand developments in Islamic thought, especially in the modern period. His first book, Transformations of Tradition: Islamic Law in Colonial Modernity (Oxford University Press, 2021) studies the encounter between Islamic law and colonial power, examining shariʿa discourses as they develop in relation to fundamental categories of modernity.

Susan B. Ridgely is Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she also directs the program. Her work argues for the importance of age as a category of analysis. She is the author of Practicing What the Doctor Preached: At Home with Focus on the Family (Oxford University Press, 2016), When I was a Child: Children’s Interpretations of First Communion (University of North Carolina Press, 2005), and two edited volumes on theories and methods for including children in the academic study of religion. Her current project centers the older practitioners, using archival research and oral histories to explore the generational consequences of the desegregation of the diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina, in 1953.

Virajita Singh is Associate Vice Provost at the University of Minnesota in the Office of Equity and Diversity (OED) and co-chair of the Religion and the Public University collaborative. She brings her expertise in design thinking, and partnership studies to catalyze and support equity and diversity work of colleges and other academic units at the University of Minnesota. Trained as an architect, Virajita is also a Senior Research Fellow and faculty member in the College of Design and the Center for Sustainable Building Research. Inspired by her long-standing interest in the topic of religion, Virajita has taught architecture courses on campus and as study abroad experiences that explore the intersection of architecture, environment, religion and religious spaces.

Michael D. Waggoner is Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emeritus at the University of Northern Iowa.  He is Editor of Religion & Education ( and the book Routledge Research in Religion & Education (  He chaired the Religion and Education Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association and co-chaired the Program Group: Religion in Public Schools:  International Perspectives of the American Academy of Religion.  His books include Sacred and Secular Tensions in Higher Education:  Connecting Parallel Universities, Routledge, 2011 (Editor); Religion in Public Schools:  Negotiating the New Commons. Rowman and Littlefield, 2013 (Editor), and the Oxford Handbook on Religion and American Education, 2018 (co-edited with Nathan C. Walker).

Elizabethada A. Wright, Professor at University of Minnesota Duluth, teaches in the Department of English, Linguistics, and Writing Studies and is a member of the faculty at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ Literacy and Rhetorical Studies Program. She has published in Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Rhetoric Review, College English Association Critic, Studies in the Literary Imagination, as well as in a number of other journals and books.

Thank You

Our Partners

Institute for Advanced Study

The Religious Studies Program

Office for Equity and Diversity

Digital Arts, Sciences, & Humanities Program

The Upper Midwest American Academy of Religion

Our Co-Conveners

Jeanne H. Kilde, Director, Religious Studies Program | UMN-TC

Virajita Singh, Associate Vice Provost, Office of Equity and Diversity | UMN-TC

Our Collaborators

Bhushan Aryal, Assistant Professor, Writing Studies | UMN-Crookston

David Beard, Professor, Rhetoric | UMN-Duluth

Richard Bohannon, Assistant Professor, Individualized and Interdisciplinary Study | Metropolitan State University, St. Paul

Penny Edgell, Professor, Sociology | UMN-TC

Kirsten Fischer, Associate Professor, History | UMN-TC

Caity Frail, Assistant Professor, Pharmaceutical Care and Health Systems | UMN-TC

Katharine Gerbner, Associate Professor, History | UMN-TC

Aisha Ghani, Assistant Professor, Anthropology and Religious Studies |UMN-TC

David Gore, Professor, Communication | UMN-Duluth

Jennifer Gunn, Associate Professor, History of Medicine; IAS Director | UMN-TC

Mark Hulsether, Professor, Religion | University of Tennessee, Knoxville

Cristina Lopez,  Educational Technologies Consultant, LATIS | UMN-TC

Robert Osburn, Executive Director | Wilberforce Academy

Miray Philips, Graduate Student, Sociology | UMN-TC

Travis Pickell, Associate Director of University Engagement | Anselm House

Julie Rashid, Librarian | UMN-TC

John Schmalzbauer, Professor, Religious Studies | Missouri State University

Julie Showers, Director, Office of Conflict Resolution | UMN-TC

Susannah Smith, Managing Director, IAS | UMN-TC

Artyom Tonoyan, Adjunct faculty member, Institute for Global Studies | UMN-TC

Elizabethada Wright, Professor, Writing Program | UMN-Duluth