Current Center Initiatives

Current Center Initiatives

How can FBOs more effectively and meaningfully address homelessness and the affordable housing crisis?  How can the wisdom of different religious traditions be leveraged to reimagine solutions to this intractable social problem? These are two questions orienting the work of the Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs during this issue cycle.

3x3 photo compilation_Center for Religious Wisdom & World Affairs current initiatives_Mark Markuly and Manuel Mejido speaking with Center Scholars, Maggie Breen and attendees at Confronting Homelessness forum, Hannah Hunthausen, Mark Hearn and Manuel Mejido at 2017 Symposium session

Innovative Research

Following a call for proposals that attracted over 120 submissions, the Center invited a cohort of 15 social scientists and theologians to Seattle University in April 2017 to discuss potential research themes at a three-day symposium.  These scholars will return to Seattle University in April 2018 to present their research during a second symposium. In the interim, scholars are interfacing with each other, local faith-based organizations and community partners through videoconferencing sessions and the University’s learning management system.

This research will be published in a collected volume that combines interdisciplinary curiosity, interreligious engagement and practical concerns about the role of FBOs in local efforts to tackle homelessness.  Specific themes include: 

  • Coast Salish spiritual practices in the face of homelessness in British Columbia
  • Muslim organizational responses to homelessness in key U.S. cities
  • Faith-based initiatives at the Haven for Hope center in San Antonio
  • FBO partnerships, the prison industrial complex and homelessness in Milwaukee
  • Reading biblical texts with undocumented, homeless Hispanics in San Jose/Santa Clara
  • Spirituality of homeless persons in Seattle’s Capitol Hill district

Capacity Building

The Puget Sound Interfaith Network for Public Theology, a working group of local faith-based organizations, religious leaders and community partners, meets periodically to explore the challenges and opportunities of more effective faith-based responses to homelessness and the affordable housing crisis.  This cohort also provides strategic guidance for the Center’s evidence gathering initiatives and continuing education programming.

The first half of the Network meetings consists of a moderated discussion among members, graduate student affiliates and a select number of community partners around a specific capacity-building theme and its theological significance; and the second half involves a videoconference dialogue with a Center scholar about her or his ongoing research projects. 

Meetings themes include:

  • The complex landscape of local faith-based interventions
  • Interfaith public theologies of homelessness
  • Tent encampments
  • Inequalities of place and the geography of opportunity
  • Improving accountability through ethnography
  • Gentrification and market-based initiatives
  • Religious land use issues
  • Fostering interfaith & cross-sector partnerships
  • Enhancing the recruitment, training and retention of volunteers

Community Resources

Drawing on the research of Center Scholars and the work of its Puget Sound Network, the Center will offer professional development courses for local religious leaders, non-profit executives, social service providers or community organizers interested in honing their skills around faith-based community engagement related to homelessness and affordable housing. 

These courses will grapple with issues, concepts and strategies the religious leader or community partner can use when putting together a grant proposal, engaging City Hall, or rolling out a new initiative.  Each course provides a space to problem-solve around how faith-based organizations and other community stakeholders might work better and more meaningfully together to tackle homelessness and related social problems.

The Center will also develop a toolkit that identifies key challenges for more effective faith-based responses to homelessness at the local level; examines successful faith-based interventions in urban centers across the country and globe; and considers new and innovative initiatives for faith-based action around homelessness.