The Religion and Resettlement Project
Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life: Funded by the Henry Luce Foundation
The Religion and Resettlement Project (RRP) is a three-year national level program that aims to create a better understanding and response to the role that religion plays in the lives of refugees as they resettle in the United States through the large network of resettlement agency offices. RRP serves as the central project in the Office of Religious Life’s (ORL) Religion and Forced Migration Initiative. The initiative is an outcome of the Seeking Refuge: Faith-Based Approaches to Forced Migration co-sponsored with the Community of Sant’Egidio and Interfaith Policy Forum on Refugee Integration and Religious Life (link) convened on October 24-25, 2017 by the ORL, and co-chaired by the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Migration and Refugee Service and the International Rescue Committee.
The role of religion in domestic refugee integration, particularly in the US government-sponsored resettlement program, is important, complex, far-reaching, and understudied. The majority of refugees identify as religious, and the majority of refugees in the US are resettled by faith-based organizations, yet there have been no systematic studies or trainings to address the interplay of religion and resettlement. RRP is designed to respond to this gap in order to strengthen refugee services and the resettlement structure at large and to assemble a wide and supportive network of diverse agencies and stakeholders working on and invested in refugee resettlement. Our growing list of RRP collaborators includes Community of Sant’Egidio USA, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, New Jersey Office for Refugees, UNICEF, the US Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Princeton Theological Seminary, Salvation Army World Service, the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, among others.
RRP will provide four intensive training workshops for refugee resettlement offices, which will include training in religious pluralism and diversity, interfaith organizing skills, and an oral history practicum. The training components as a whole aim to reconfigure the way agencies approach the role of religion in their work, and to qualitatively improve the way refugees settle and integrate into American civil society. Student interns will work each summer at these partner resettlement agencies and offices to increase our collaboration and partnership and develop their own profession, vocation, and leadership skills. Over the course of three years, the network will include close to 200 resettlement sites and other diverse faculty from across the country who participated in and thus helped curate the workshops in its four iterations. The training workshops will change the way that resettlement agencies understand and approach the religion of their clients by making visible the existing good and growing practices around religious engagement, as well as by creating channels of dialogue and sharing between experts on religion (from scholarship and practice) and experts on forced migration and resettlement to think of new or improved approaches. Three components of this training will be:
- Panels, case studies, and small group discussions to explore the role religion plays in the lives of refugees. These panels will be led largely by refugees themselves, local religious leaders, and practitioners who have already embarked in interfaith and/or religious literacy discoveries of their own in their local contexts. The goal of this module is basic literacy in religious pluralism and diversity, in refugee religion and techniques for deepening knowledge of refugee religion in a local context, in ways that help agencies better understand their clients and respond to their needs.
- Interfaith training, in which the resettlement representatives will learn interfaith organizing skills through working with local partners who are themselves religious leaders and chaplains from religious non-profits. The goal of this module is for agency representatives to become familiar with how to reach out to religious communities to help their clients to resettle and deepen their local ties.
- Training in oral history, in which agency representatives will learn basic theoretical and practical methods of oral history. The goal of the oral history training will be for representatives to return with the ability to carry out oral history collection and trainings in refugee communities.
Outcomes of the workshops will include:
- A Religion and Resettlement Brief to present concise insights and recommendations about the role of religion in US-based refugee resettlement and will be circulated among influential policymakers and research-oriented organizations, including Refugee Council USA, the US State Department and federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, and the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. Research conducted by Princeton faculty, graduate students, and other faculty in conjunction with our partner resettlement sites participating in the workshops will shape this brief.
- The Oral History Research Project to enable refugees and volunteers to tell their own stories, providing them an opportunity to reflect on the role of religion in their lives and to learn from each other’s experiences of resettlement in the United States. We will assemble these oral histories in a publicly-accessible archive.
- The development of a network of refugees, aid workers, students, scholars, grass roots organizations, domestic and international NGOs, and others.
Additionally, as part of ORL’s larger initiative exploring religion and forced migration, we will organize six interfaith exchange dinners between refugees and policymakers in Washington D.C. and we will bring together scholars, practitioners, religious delegates, and agency representatives for a Refugee Religion and Citizenship Conference to discuss the role of religion and resettlement, locating appropriate areas of research and gaps in knowledge on the topic. With both of these programs we aim to generate new insights about refugee religion and religious understandings of citizenship.
ORL understands its programmatic work, on forced migration in particular and its social work in general, as a form of public religion and public scholarship, and our reflection on the work as a kind of public theology. We are an office of religiously diverse chaplains located in a secular private university that has service for the public good as a critical part of its orientation. ORL’s work is one way it answers the question of how it fits in to Princeton’s place and social mission. Our methodology, involving principles of chaplaincy, friendship, interfaith, student leadership development, and public scholarship is therefore distinct from accounts presented by refugee service professional organizations, secular agencies, and faculty departments more broadly speaking, as well as traditional religious organizations.
Associate Dean of Religious Life
Religion and Forced Migration Coordinator