Free Speech and Religion

The Rebuilding Democracy Project: A Case Study in Polarization, Faith, and The Common Good

May 24, 2021  • Religion & Society Program

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According to lead author Rabbi Michael G. Holzman, civic engagement has always been an integral aspect of Judaism. Today, American Jewish communities span the political spectrum while also grappling with the same forces of polarization that stress nearly every house of worship in America. In response to rising polarization, distrust, and hate crimes, members of the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation (NVHC) developed the Rebuilding Democracy Project to explore how specific aspects of Judaism’s traditions apply to the myriad conversations of American political life.

Although NVHC grounds its work in Jewish prayer, Torah study, and Jewish liturgical traditions, their methods can be adapted to many other faith traditions, communities, and situations. By applying what they call the 10 Faith Habits for Effective Citizenship to their communal disagreements, they developed programs that are not intended to win one faction over to the other. Rather, they serve to strengthen and deepen relationships and community ties. They aim to make conversations about political differences more civil and humane, and because these methods have no inherent political bias, they are well-suited to help communities across the ideological spectrum break through toxic polarization and engage in productive and respectful debate.

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