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Focus on Faculty: Jonathan Golden

“There should be no separation between your scholarship and your teaching”

October 2023 – Drew University’s Jonathan Golden, associate teaching professor of religious studies, director of Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture & Conflict (CRCC), as well as the program director of Drew’s Conflict Resolution & Leadership certificate program, joined us for our Focus on Faculty series, where we highlight the many accomplishments, research, and scholarship of Drew’s incredible faculty members.

Golden’s expertise in conflict resolution, interfaith dialogue, and peace and conflict studies is reflected in his courses and leadership. He is also a faculty leader for Drew’s Action Scholars, a unique, hands-on, take-action program for students who are passionate about leading social change. 

We sat down with Golden to discuss how his scholarship informs his students. Read on to learn more.

Why are the CRCC and the certificate program in Conflict Resolution & Leadership particularly relevant now?
They always are, but it does seem like we’re living in a time that is especially fraught. It feels less like there’s no middle ground, especially when it comes to politics. People are very entrenched in their beliefs and are less likely to see and search for areas of overlap and intersection. As result, what enters is a conflict phase where people get deeper into their positions, resulting in people seemingly further apart than ever. 

The political rhetoric seen on television and social media reflects the fact that people seem more emboldened than ever to express extreme points of view. The CRCC and the Conflict Resolution program explore sectarian, religious, and political violence around the world and at home, where understanding the deep, root drivers of disagreement is paramount.  

Both programs enjoy great representation from each of Drew’s three schools, creating a great balance in learning and discussion. We have had a lot of interest from clergy and teachers, two areas where people are feeling particularly challenged right now. We also have more international students than ever joining the Conflict Resolution program.

Tell us about your published works.
Religion in the Classroom: Exploring the Issues is a newly-published book I co-authored with Joseph McCallister, one of our doctoral graduate students at Drew. We focus on questions surrounding the separation of church and state in the U.S. and a range of issues involving religion and public education. Religion in the Classroom is intended to be used as a reference book or guide for teachers and school administrators. There is an immediate relevance and application for this content, and I’m hopeful that we can make an impact to help everyone understand these issues. For example, how do we respect religious freedom and pluralism while also honoring the prohibition against any form of state religion? The U.S. is becoming increasingly diverse in every way, including religious identity. It is important that schools know how to create an atmosphere of inclusion and belonging for all students. 

I recently presented on this topic at the Parliament of World Religions. It was really exciting because there were several different sessions dedicated to these issues. School teachers from around the U.S. and Canada presented, raising the question of not only how you teach religion legally, but what are best practices for teaching religion that are inviting, open-ended, and promote curiosity. It felt like there is a growing movement to promote religious literacy in America.

Currently, I am working on a book on conflict and sectarian violence, focusing on individuals directly involved in conflict—both those causing harm and those harmed. This includes Israelis and Palestinians who have lost loved ones to violence. Sadly, we are seeing the ongoing tragic impact of sectarian violence in the region right now. In fact, we were in the middle of studying this conflict in my Intro to Peace and Conflict Studies course when the current war broke out and we are reading excerpts from this book.

How does your scholarship inform your students?
Ideally, there should be no separation between your scholarship and your teaching. These days, I won’t do research unless there is an immediate benefit to students and the community.

I was recently involved in a seminar, organized by NetVUE and the Council of Independent Colleges, where a group of scholars gathered together three or four times at different locations throughout the country with the goal of creating a book on how college students find their vocation and ways to contribute to a common good. My article contribution is titled “Expanding Borders, Widening Circles: Transformation Through Encounters with Alterity,” which delves into how students find meaning in what they do and see beyond themselves and their own immediate group. The way the world is interconnected, there is no problem that doesn’t indirectly impact us all, and so more than ever we need to inspect why we care about what we care about. It also emphasizes the importance of reflection. We encourage experiential learning at Drew, but if the students do not sit, reflect, and ruminate on what they’re doing, they get half the impact of the experience. My article includes stories about students who found their calling through community-based learning courses, so while the book is not yet in print, we are having this year’s Action Scholars read it. I hope the stories of Drew students who found meaning and purpose through civic engagement are inspiring to all.

This past summer, myself and 25 students, mostly from Drew, were part of the CRCC’s New Jersey Institute of Emerging Leaders program. The institute is designed so that students learn directly from experienced practitioners and thought leaders in the world of peacebuilding and conflict transformation while living in an immersive environment. We all live on Drew’s campus for a week, eat all meals together, while learning critical strategies and skills. The program featured a revolving door of amazing experts, writers, and speakers from around the country representing many different backgrounds and faith traditions. The program asked students to begin working on their own action plans for implementing change back on campus. We are beginning to see some of these ideas come to realization already.

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