About the Case Initiative

In 2005, the Pluralism Project began an experiment to creatively apply the case method to the dilemmas and disputes of multireligious America. How might this pedagogy change the way we teach—and how students learn? Since that time, we have developed a small library of decision-based cases, have hosted convenings on case teaching, have fostered new collaborations, and are developing a cohort of educators who are integrating the case method in their own classroom. Together, we are applying the case method—both the participant-centered pedagogy and decision-based case studies—to teaching and learning about religion in America. Our primary texts are the dilemmas and disputes that emerge in our multi-religious society.

In fall 2007, Diana Eck began utilizing the method when teaching the course “Religion in Multicultural America: Case Studies in Religious Pluralism.” Since that initial pilot course, interest in the case study method has grown exponentially both at Harvard and beyond. While the method is new to our field, there is extensive research in the field of education documenting the effectiveness of case studies in learning, either as a substitute for or an enhancement of the primarily lecture-based courses that are still the usual fare in many universities and theological schools. Indeed, research has consistently shown that active case-study learning is far more effective in teaching critical thinking than lectures.[1]

This initiative continues to grow through convenings, a cohort of case teachers, and a range of collaborations. By special arrangement, we work collaboratively to develop cases for special uses or topics. These include: The Abdelkader Education Project (“Rumors in Damascus”); American Jewish World Service (“In Pursuit of Justice”); Department of Sociology, Brandeis University (“A Question of Membership”); Merrimack College, the Abdelkader Education Project, and the Greve Foundation (“A Young Imam in the American Midwest” and “The House on 6th Street”); and NYU/Global Spiritual Life (“Christmas Tree Crisis”). Our case initiative is enriched by the involvement of students, staff, research associates, and colleagues. Two special contributors, who served as consultants and case writers, are: the late Brendan Randall and Rev. Dr. Marcia Sietstra.

We invite you to consider using cases in your own educational context. You are welcome to review our cases and request a case. You may also find our resources on the Case Method and Other Case Materials to be helpful starting points. If you have any questions, please contact: staff@pluralism.org.

[1] See the many studies cited by Derek C. Bok in Our Underachieving Colleges, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, chapter 5. The same critique would most certainly hold for theological schools in which the theological dilemmas of “real life” theological thinking rarely have a place and active case-based learning is still in its infancy.