A real privilege in my work is the ability to provide religious literacy training to organizations, especially those serving the public in critical ways. Police services are just one of the many communities who work with Encounter World Religions (the centre I run). For years, staff from different police forces have come to our Discovery Week program, held every summer. This is a rich immersive week of learning about and visiting religious communities (moved online during COVID). At other times, I have been asked to speak at police headquarters, offering what we call our #BeyondDiversityTM Training programs.

Diversity and inclusion training has real value in creating sensitivity and sometimes providing important do’s and don’ts. At Encounter, we do this work but we also go beyond this to teach about the actual religious traditions – we teach religious literacy. I promise attendees that they will learn “more than they need to know” because we aim to give people a kind of familiarity and comfort that will help them better serve the public, and better understand their colleagues, their neighbours, their son’s girlfriend’s family, and the evening news.

Comfort is key. Humans are naturally inclined to fear what we do not understand. The unfamiliar or strange can unnerve us a little or make someone feel distant from us – make them seem other. We help police officers to be able to recognize objects in people’s homes, on their bodies or on a car’s bumper sticker that may convey religious identity. The gains from this are multiple:

  • Police staff learn to recognize religious items and symbols and are able to discern the specific religious identity
  • Staff can become “literate” about such items in ways that allow valuable opening small talk, to establish rapport
  • They learn to avoid pitfalls and transgressions and can respond to religious symbols with curiosity rather than fear
  • Members of the public begin to feel seen and understood. This enables trust which, in turn, enables police to better partner with religious communities to enhance safety for all.
  • Minority members of the police force begin to feel more recognized, included, and understood at work

We live in increasingly diverse societies. Police have come under renewed pressures to be able to do their important work in ways that are sensitive to the many people they serve and serve with. It is a privilege to be able to help in this essential task. If you or your organization is interest in our #BeyondDiversityTM Training feel free to reach out to me at religionsgeek@gmail.com.

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