The Little Rock Congregations Study (LRCS) Team at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock is investigating how congregations and clergy members are using racial justice and reconciliation for faith-based community engagement in Little Rock.
The newest study, “Race and Faith: The Role of Congregations in Racial Justice,” is funded by a $5,000 Jack Shand Research Grant from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. The Jack Shand Research Funds support projects on racial, ethnic, and religious minority groups.
The Little Rock Congregations Study, a longitudinal, community-based research project that began in 2012, is led by UA Little Rock professors Rebecca Glazier, Gerald Driskill, and Kirk Leach, in consultation with the project’s Clergy Advisory Board, a group of eight clergy members in Little Rock who advise the Little Rock Congregations Study.
Recent data from the Little Rock Congregations Study indicates that religious people and spaces present an opportunity for progress on race relations. Since 2012, an increasing percentage of clergy members have recognized the importance of the issue of race relations. Last year, nearly 2,300 congregants from 35 diverse congregations in Little Rock said that race relations is the issue they most want their place of worship to get involved in helping to solve.
“We know people sometimes have a difficult time talking about race, but they see their religious leaders as people who can lead those conversations and their places of worship as a safe place to have those difficult conversations,” Glazier said. “We wanted to look at what is being done for faith-based racial justice and reconciliation in Little Rock.”
The researchers will learn more about faith-based community engagement in Little Rock, and they will use what they learn to inform congregations and activists who are hoping to make progress on race relations in their city.
Glazier is working with a team of students from the UA-Clinton School of Public Service who are conducting research with faith leaders in Little Rock as well as faith-based racial justice leaders around the country.
“I’m so excited to be able to join such a long-standing and important project like the Little Rock Congregations Study,” said Kate Deegan, a Master of Public Service student. “Having these difficult discussions about race in a time of political polarity and social division is important for moving forward.”
The LRCS Team also plans to conduct focus groups with congregations that are making substantial efforts on race relations. They will study how Little Rock congregations address the issue of race relations as well as how clergy and congregation members view efforts to address race relations.
In addition, the researchers will interview experts about best practices for faith-based racial justice programs. Once the study is complete, the LRCS members plan to hold a conference where they can share their results and resources that will help Little Rock congregations address faith-based racial justice programs.
“We are partnering with the Social Justice Institute at Philander Smith and the Race Under Grace Project at City Church Network,” Glazier said. “These community partners are helping us make sure the final resources we provide to our congregations fit best with our city and community. They are all passionate and excited about this work and want to help our city move forward.”
Researchers said this new project is also in response to the increased activism, public demonstrations, and community conversations about race that took place in Little Rock and around the country last year.
“We are responding to the 2020 Summer of Resistance where people worldwide went to the streets to express their dismay for, and rage against, the structural violence that melanated peoples are made to endure,” said Kwami Abdul-Bey, a Master of Public Service candidate and co-convenor of the Arkansas Peace & Justice Memorial Movement. “We hope that our present research will yield actionable data on racial justice and reconciliation that the City of Little Rock and its houses of faith can use to address this problem collectively to create a more equitable society for our citizens.”
In 2020, LRCS researchers interviewed 38 clergy members from Little Rock. Many described undertaking efforts in response to the racial climate in the city, including holding reading groups, meeting with local law enforcement, recording podcasts with clergy from other congregations, and engaging in conversations about racial justice.
“This qualitative data has just begun to scratch the service of what is happening in the Little Rock faith community regarding racial justice and reconciliation,” Glazier said. “Although many places of worship are making efforts to learn about and improve race relations, we don’t know much about what is currently being done in Little Rock, how clergy view the efforts, and whether Black and white congregants think they are working.”