Universiteit Leiden

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Religious Studies students "learn with the city": bridging the gap between religion and society

Three students in Elpine de Boer’s class “Practicing Religious Studies” have been working together on a “Leren met de Stad” (“Learning with the City”) project with community centre Morschwijck, located in Leiden. The students were asked by the organization Incluzio to investigate to which extent cultural and/or religious factors influence whether a person uses the facilities of the community centre or asks for financial support. Their findings will be presented at an exhibition which will be showcased at the Lipsius building from the 16th to the 30th of April.

Oftentimes, the topic of religion is taboo in this country. Therefore, religion is not always carefully considered in policy-making and social work, even though religion can impact people’s lives and decision-making considerably. Because the topic of religion is so complex, scholars of religion can bring valuable insights and perform a bridge function between citizens and government.

During their research, the students visited the community centre and performed interviews with the residents of the neighbourhood. The students found multiple factors that influenced whether or not people sought help. To give one example, shame is an important factor. Shame is a strongly culturally determined emotion that arises whenever a person diverts from their norms or the norms of others. Religion can enhance feelings of shame among people with lower incomes, for example, because the person cannot live up to the standards of almsgiving or reciprocity.  Religion can also reduce feelings of shame over low income, because of pious praise of poverty, prayer, or support of a religious community.

Student Hanna found out that key figures and the first moment of contact are detrimental for someone to return to the community centre to ask for help. In reflection of the project, Hanna states: 'In our current society, scholars of religion are essential. We live in a multicultural society with multiple religious traditions. A scholar of religion can fulfil the role of mediator between companies, individuals and groups.' Hanna also calls for reflection, for both social workers and religious scholars. She asks them to think about what anxieties we experience when we enter a new (cultural) environment and where these anxieties come from. From this, we can learn.

The students gathered their conclusions and created a presentation in the shape of a cube that will be presented at multiple locations in Leiden. The "touring" exhibition 'Presenting With the City' will be displayed at the Lipsius building from the 16th to the 30th of April. An opening event will be organised on 16 April at 15:00: for more information and how to sign up, please refer to the event page.

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