Inaugural Workshop: Hindsight is 2020

Racial Justice Protest

December 2021

A mismanaged response to a global pandemic; a nationwide uprising against racist police brutality; and an electoral referendum on Donald Trump and his style of partisan politics. Events of 2020 prompted Americans to tell new stories about who we are in relation to each other and the rest of the world. Yet in American popular imagination, religion continues to play similar roles: “Bad religion” destroys individual freedoms and blocks social progress while “good religion” repairs damage to the social fabric or sustains the struggle. Are we continuing to tell the same old story about religion in American life? If so, whose stories are we ignoring and which stories are we forgetting?

For this workshop, we solicited commentary and reflection on the tumultuous events that reshaped American religious life in 2020. We studied in order three events during this workshop to see how they built on one another:

  1. Public Health: When COVID-19 came to the US and engulfed the planet, how did religion respond?
  2. Racial Justice: When nationwide protests erupted in response to the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others, what was the role of religion?
  3. Political Polarization: As Republicans and Democrats contended for power during an election year, and as populism surged across the globe, how and when did faith emerge as a force?

We invited to the same table faith leaders who participated in and lived through these events, journalists who told their stories, and academics who situated these happenings in clarifying contexts. In each case we sought to answer: What happened? How was it talked about? How can we improve the conversation?

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