San Antonio’s faith communities are not only vehicles for civic engagement but are one of the city’s greatest assets, according to a study by a Trinity University student and professor who examined religious diversity in the Alamo City.
The report, titled “Developing a Religious Diversity Profile of San Antonio,” was conducted in the summer and fall of 2016 as part of Trinity University’s Mellon Initiative in the Arts and Humanities. The findings were released this month.
Benjamin Collinger ’19, a St. Louis native who is double majoring in history and international studies with a minor in religion, said he was surprised to learn the extent to which faith communities foster civic engagement. “Interfaith collaboration that builds understanding and catalyzes activism – while often imperfect – is one of San Antonio’s greatest assets,” Collinger said.
During interviews with 30 local faith leaders and another 102 surveys, Collinger learned that several community members believe San Antonio is a welcoming community for minority religious groups. Many say that cooperation among different faiths is productive and empowering. Specifically, the city’s large Latinx population helps to create cultural awareness.
Nevertheless, the research identified two themes where more work lies ahead – the continuing existence of anti-Muslim sentiment and legal and institutional barriers that remain for LGBTQ communities.
Assisting Collinger in the study was Simran Jeet Singh ’06, assistant professor of religion at Trinity, who said the wisdom and contributions of local religious leaders is often ignored. “With this project, we hope to bring attention to the wonderful work they do and learn what we can do to make San Antonio a better and more inclusive place,” Singh said.
Religious communities of San Antonio are “far more connected than we realized” but also mirror broader national concerns about tensions that are largely unknown because they “reside underneath the surface,” Singh said.
“As far as we are aware, no one has developed a report on religious interactions in San Antonio before. This speaks to the ways in which religious communities are generally ignored, despite the immense social and political power that they carry,” Singh said. “We believe it's critically important for us to speak directly with religious leaders to learn about the challenges that they face so that we can address them in a way that is effective and constructive.”
Singh noted that as someone who was born and raised as a Sikh in San Antonio, and who has remained actively engaged in interfaith work, he was pleased to find the general climate of interreligious cooperation to be positive and healthy. He added, “At the same time, I have always known there were issues that no one ever talked about. As our nation becomes increasingly divided along the lines of race and religion, we no longer have the luxury of ignoring these tensions. We have to treat these issues with the seriousness and urgency they deserve, and we have to do so before the existing fractures become irreconcilable.”
Singh also is a senior religion Fellow for the Sikh Coalition, a Truman National Security Fellow for the Truman National Security Project, and a Handa Fellow in Interreligious Communication.
Collinger said Singh's community involvement, connections, and knowledge were critical for the research, which would have been “far more difficult” without Singh’s engagement and access to local leaders. “I hope that this report incentivizes city leaders – in the public and private sector – to examine ways to channel the interfaith community's energy into preventing such incidents of bias and stringently enforce the city's nondiscrimination ordinance,” Collinger said.