The Religion and Resettlement Project

The Religion and Resettlement Project

Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life and The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services 

Funded in part by the Henry Luce Foundation

The Religion and Resettlement Project (RRP) is a three-year national program that aims to better understand and respond to the role that religion plays in the lives of refugees as they resettle and integrate into the United States. RRP serves as the central project in Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life’s (ORL) Religion and Forced Migration Initiative, and is co-chaired by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Department of Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS). The initiative is an outcome of previous events that included the Community Sant’Egidio, USCCB/MRS, and the International Rescue Committee.

The role of religion in domestic refugee integration is important, complex, far-reaching, and understudied. The majority of refugees in the U.S. identify as in some way religious and are often 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.

RRP will provide a series of symposia for refugee resettlement offices and others involved in the resettlement process that will explore different ways in which religion operates in the lives of refugees resettled over time. The primary objective of the symposium is to create an opportunity for agencies to examine and better understand the role that religion plays in their engagement with refugees and to qualitatively improve the way refugees integrate into American civil society.

The symposia will include panels, breakout sessions, informal conversations, and an oral history practicum for further deepening and engaging with refugees. Each panel looks at a different aspect of how religion is lived and organized for and by refugees, an opportunity to learn about the role of religion, and a better sense of how to engage with religion in constructive ways to help refugees navigate their new homes. In the first panel refugees will share stories of how their faith and religious communities influenced their resettlement, in the second panel religious leaders will reflect on the role that their religious communities play in the lives of refugees, and in the third panel non-profit leaders will explain how they work with and among interfaith communities. In each case we are interested in exploring the wide-ranging and eclectic ways religion affects the personal and public lives of refugees.

The oral history component of the training has several important objectives. It is a tool for refugee aid organizations to deepen their understanding of those they serve. It provides an opportunity for further civic participation with and for refugees. Finally, it will connect religiously diverse refugees to one another on a local and national level, and will result in an archive of oral histories on the topic of religion, resettlement, and integration that will be made publicly accessible to all.

A dozen student interns will work each summer at resettlement agencies and offices to increase our collaboration and partnership and develop their own profession, vocation, and leadership skills. The symposiums 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. It will do this by creating an active dialogue among and sharing between experts on religion (from scholarship and practice), those knowledgeable in forced migration, and resettlement practitioners to think of new or improved approaches.

The long-term outputs of the RRP will include a Religion and Resettlement Brief that will present concise insights and recommendations about the role of religion in US-based refugee resettlement for policymakers, practitioners, and research-oriented organizations. The Oral History Research Project will provide a forum for refugees and volunteers to tell their own stories, give them an opportunity to reflect on the role of religion in their lives, and learn from each other’s experiences of the resettlement process in the United States. The development of a network of refugees, aid workers, students, scholars, grass roots organizations, domestic and international NGOs, and others will provide a long-term resource to everyone involved in the process refugee reception, integration, and protection.

Other aspects of the Religion and Forced Migration Initiative will include interfaith exchange dinners between refugees and policymakers in Washington D.C and a Refugee Religion and Citizenship Conference, which will convene scholars, practitioners, religious delegates, and agency representatives.

The ORL understands its programmatic work on forced migration in particular and its social work in general, as a form of public religion and at times public scholarship, with our reflection on this 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. The 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.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is the national organization through which the Catholic bishops of the United States respond to the political and doctrinal priorities of the US-based Church. For over a century now the U.S. Catholic bishops have undertaken the Gospel mandate to welcome the stranger and provide support for vulnerable and marginalized populations on the move. Grounded by its belief in Jesus Christ and Catholic teaching, USCCB/MRS fulfills the commitment of the U.S. Catholic bishops to protect the life and dignity of the human person. We serve and advocate for refugees, asylees, migrants, unaccompanied children, and victims of human trafficking.

For more information, please contact:

Matthew Weiner, Associate Dean of Religious Life – mcweiner@princeton.edu

Todd Scribner, USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services – tscribner@usccb.org

Katherine Clifton, Religion and Forced Migration Coordinator – kkclifto@princeton.edu