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Is Religion Still Relevant Today? A Discussion with Keeping it 101 podcast hosts Megan Goodwin & Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst

“Even in interfaith communities—even with folks who label themselves progressives, or activists, or good neighbors, or wanting to live in an ecumenical worldview—you still see folks prioritizing their own traditions, contributing to the exclusion of others. For Megan and I, education is power first and foremost. If you miss it [understanding others] then you’re missing a really important story, particularly in the United States. And when you know better, that’s when you can do better. How do we get more folks to know better?” —Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst

Megan Goodwin and Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst, cohosts of the Keeping It 101: A Killjoy’s Introduction to Religion podcast, joined ICJS Protestant scholar Matthew Taylor in an online conversation on September 23, 2021 Together, they discussed the importance of recognizing religious implications in such things as calendars and menus, and the role of religious “nones” in interreligious dialogue.

While frequently focusing their irreverent podcast on how and where religion intersects with modern life, Goodwin and Morgenstein Fuerst are also academics, authors, and commentators.

According to Goodwin and Morgenstein Fuerst, whether one considers oneself to be religious or a religious ‘none’ (one who does not subscribe to a particular religious tradition), our lives are, at least in part, shaped by religion. “You don’t have to know anything about religion, or care anything about religion, to have your life shaped by religion,” added Goodwin.

It does not take much effort to see the reality of this statement. From the religious dates noted in standard calendars, to the food offered at interreligious gatherings, to the laws passed around the country, religion plays a central part in our daily lives, whether we like it or not. And in a country founded on the separation of church and state, calendars, menus, and laws tend to overwhelmingly favor white, Christian traditions.

“When I don’t see my own culture celebrated in a calendar, I have to ask the question, ‘Am I and my family welcomed here?’ Am I advocating for something, or is it already accepted by this community?,” said Morgenstein Fuerst. “One of those is a welcoming feeling that demonstrates religious literacy, even if it’s just superficial. And one of those is, I’ve gotta fight.”

“We learn from our colleagues in disability studies: you meet people where they are and you don’t make them ask for accommodations,” added Goodwin. “You show them that they’re welcome by doing that thinking for them, by making that space ahead of time so that they don’t have to fight to be there, so that they know that you have already thought about them in their full humanity and are making space for them. It might feel like a very small act, but when you are used to not being on the calendar, when you are used to not being thought of, that level of consideration, I think, speaks volumes.”

Recognizing this privilege and being willing to confront it at every turn is, according to Goodwin and Morgenstein Fuerst, key to improving interreligious understanding and religious literacy. “The knowledge that we have gained as a country about religion is being weaponized to shore up the privilege of possibly the most privileged people who have ever walked the earth,” said Goodwin. “That is exhausting and infuriating and just really sad. I would like for us to have the tools and the vocabulary to recognize that when it’s happening and hopefully start making changes at whatever level we have access to.”

Watch the recording of the ICJS discussion here.

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Megan Goodwin is the Visiting Lecturer of Religion at Northeastern University and Program Director of Sacred Writes: Public Scholarship on Religion. Ilyse Morgenstein Fuerst is Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Vermont and Associate Director of the UVM Humanities Center. Both are cohosts of the Keeping It 101: A Killjoy’s Introduction to Religion podcast. Below are links to some of their favorite episodes.

(E101) What the Heck Is Religion, and What the Heck Is This Podcast?
15 January 2020 | Our very first episode! In which we talk about what the heck religion is, why you should know more about it, and why it’s probably more complicated than you think.

(E106) You Might Be Done with Religion, but Religion Is Not Done With You
25 March 2020 | In which we discuss who gets to choose their religious belonging, why “spiritual but not religious” gives us the agita, and how—even if you’re not religious—religion is lurking under your floorboards.

(E201) Race, Gender, and Sexuality:What’s Religion Got to Do with ‘Em?
2 September 2020 | In which we are BACK, and bringing you a whole new season looking at the intersection(s) of religion, race, gender, and sexuality.