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Ford Foundation Announces Difficult Dialogues Initiative

Great news from the Ford Foundation! They will be funding approximately 25 projects at colleges and universities for up to $100,000 each – projects that promote greater dialogue around the sensitive and sometimes controversial questions that arise due to increasing religious and cultural diversity on campus. Click below for more details about this important opportunity.

Ford Foundation Launches ‘Difficult Dialogues’ Initiative

The Ford Foundation (http://www.fordfound.org/) has announced a new $2.5 million grants initiative to support scholarship, teaching, and civil dialogue about difficult political, religious, racial, and cultural issues in undergraduate education in the United States.

The goal of the Difficult Dialogues initiative
(http://www.fordfound.org/news/more/dialogues/) is to help colleges and universities create a campus environment where sensitive subjects can be discussed in a spirit of open scholarly inquiry, intellectual rigor, and with respect for different viewpoints. The initiative will support new and existing courses and academic programs that increase knowledge of the religious and cultural complexity of American society and engage students in constructive discussion of conflicting viewpoints.

“Debates taking place on college campuses often mirror controversial issues being examined in the society at large,” said foundation president Susan V.
Berresford. “Educators are seeking ways to foster constructive dialogue on these matters and at the same time reduce intolerance and threats to academic freedom. Foundation resources can help this effort.”

The foundation has issued a request for proposals
(http://fconline.fdncenter.org/pnd/1469/ford/rfp) inviting accredited, degree-granting, nonprofit institutions to submit preliminary proposals by May 16, 2005, and will invite formal proposals from the most promising projects to compete for approximately twenty-five grants of up to $100,000.

The initiative is part of a broader, $6.7 million effort by the foundation to understand and combat anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of bigotry in the United States and Europe.

Preliminary proposals, including Presidential endorsement, must be submitted by email no later than midnight on May 16, 2005.

Here are some additional details from the RFP:

The Ford Foundation is undertaking a new initiative in undergraduate education. The initiative seeks to promote religious, cultural, and political pluralism, as well as academic freedom, on campuses. The objective of this new effort is to support programs and projects that promote greater dialogue around the sensitive and sometimes controversial questions that arise due to increasing religious and cultural diversity on campus.

The Foundation is inviting all accredited, degree granting, non-profit institutions with general undergraduate programs to submit preliminary proposals. Through a national selection process, we will invite the most promising projects to submit formal proposals. We expect to fund approximately 25 projects of up to $100,000 each. Grants will be awarded both to new efforts and those that expand or enhance existing ones. Projects may vary in duration from one to two academic years.

We anticipate supporting projects with a primary emphasis on teaching and learning. They could bring together departments or organizations on campus with different scholarly interests and perspectives, or focus on innovations within a particular academic unit. We expect that all funded projects will have a substantial impact on the institution by improving campus climate for a broad spectrum of faculty, students, and staff by promoting an environment where difficult topics can be discussed in a spirit of scholarly inquiry and with a respect for different viewpoints. Projects should involve a range of learning activities that bring together diverse constituencies and should seek to build bridges between religious traditions through scholarship, study, and, where appropriate, employ the arts and humanities, as well as the social sciences.

Projects could take several approaches to increasing students’ knowledge of the religious and cultural complexity of American society, stimulating informed discussions about conflicts between and within different groups and religious traditions, understanding the complex roots of bigotry, and promoting an appreciation of the centrality of cultural and religious pluralism in a vigorous democracy. Topics might include the following: the new religious diversity in the United States; fundamentalism within and among religious traditions; conflicts between secular and religious viewpoints; the relationship of religion to sexuality, homophobia, and gender roles; and the tensions between religion and politics in the United States. Successful applications may also choose to focus on understanding and responding to a constellation of religious, political, and cultural dimensions of the crisis in the Middle East; and, finally, projects may seek to understand and respond to recent outbreaks of Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in the United States.

These suggestions do not cover the full range of topics that may be addressed. Each institution is encouraged to address issues of religious pluralism or cultural diversity that are particular to their own campuses, but also develop approaches that can be adapted for use at other colleges and universities. Proposals may seek funding for curriculum and faculty development, including: constructing new courses, team-teaching by faculty; linking departments and centers to develop more inclusive curricula that brings together a diversity of viewpoints; developing new curricula on groups in the United States not usually studied; and offering faculty development seminars on how to integrate scholarship into courses on religious traditions, including those not commonly taught, and their associated cultures. Other projects will also be considered that encourage students to engage in difficult dialogues around the issues of religious and cultural pluralism.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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