Shifting Ground: Religion & Civic Life in America

The New Hampshire Humanities Council (NHHC) is a private non-profit organization that strengthens New Hampshire by providing free public humanities programs in its communities. The NHHC awards grants and develops and sponsors free public programs such as book discussions, workshops, seminars, and conferences led by scholars in literature, history, languages, ethics, philosophy, comparative religion and culture, and the interpretation of the arts.

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It has been helpful to hear other legislators from both parties answer difficult questions candidly.  We rarely have that opportunity in the State House.

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--New Hampshire State Legislator

New Hampshire Humanities Council Conversation Series

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This series has caused me to think about how my values and beliefs influence my perspective on public issues.

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--New Hampshire State Legislator

New Hampshire Humanities Council Conversation Series

Audience Focus

New Hampshire state legislators; teachers; New Hampshire citizens in communities statewide. 

Goals

  1. Engage people throughout New Hampshire in conversation who don't usually come together to talk
  2. Provide a safe space for discussion by a politically and religiously diverse group.
  3. Use the humanities as a lens through which to discuss public policy issues, going back to the roots of state humanities councils.
New Hampshire State Capitol sign

Project Description

Shifting Ground: Religion and Civic Life in America was a special initiative of the New Hampshire Humanities Council from 2007-2009. Its purpose was to examine how religion has been used in public policy through the perspectives of education, protection of privacy, foreign policy, and the environment. The two-year initiative included television and radio broadcasts, community forums, and a teacher institute. The initiative engaged New Hampshire citizens in conversation on the changing role of religion in the public arena and how it impacts our common civic life. 

As part of this initiative, the New Hampshire Humanities Council convened a small group of members of both houses of the New Hampshire legislature for six weekly civic reflection conversations on religion and civic life in America. Facilitators were trained by the Center for Civic Reflection and the series was funded by a CCR seed grant. The purpose of the series was to establish a comfortable, neutral space where legislators could discover new insights about the relationship between religion and politics, learn more about the implications of their beliefs and values, and engage in personal reflection and respectful dialogue.

Conversations in this series were co-facilitated by Donna Sytek, former Speaker of the New Hampshire House, and James Squires, M.D., former New Hampshire Senator. All members of the New Hampshire House and Senate were invited to participate. The series was attended by eighteen legislators—half Democrats and half Republicans. Participants were religiously diverse, ranging from self-described fundamentalists to agnostics. Throughout the discussions, participants expressed gratitude for a “safe” venue where conflicting views could be discussed with respect and care.

Shifting Ground was a 2008 nominee for the Federation of State Humanities' Councils' Helen and Martin Schwartz Prize for outstanding work in the public humanities.

Impact

  1. Participants reported that the conversations and forums helped them to successfully practice moral reasoning and reflection.
  2. Participants reported increased understanding of the beliefs and assumptions of others.
  3. Participants reported that they had built skills in active listening and respectful exchange.

Tags

new hampshirereligioncivic lifecivic and community leaders

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