Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy

Graduate Certificate in Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy

The CCRL certificate is currently not offered, but we hope to offer it again the future. Please email Jim Wellman at for questions, and learn more about the certificate program below. 

Introduction, requirements, and how to apply

What is cross-cultural religious literacy (CCRL)? It is the capacity to address complex, sensitive issues alongside those who do not share one’s own beliefs. CCRL starts with a humble understanding of our own beliefs. This starting point creates a context to understand how people with different beliefs understand themselves. This approach, we argue, creates a positive feedback loop, accelerating practical collaboration by building mutual respect, eventually generating the necessary consensus for political outcomes that allow all to flourish.

When 87% of the global population is projected to claim some religious identity by 2050, cross-cultural religious literacy skills help build practical partnerships. Among these skills, we prioritize three:

1) Evaluation, of self and context, enabling an understanding of how one might understand, name, and interact with religion as an analytic factor among political, economic, or other interests.

2) Communication, verbal and non-verbal, across social-cultural-religious and geo-political identities.

3) Negotiation, internal and external, of one’s own identity, as well as across social-cultural-religious lines.

These skills permeate each CCRL course even as each course provides a different perspective on them.

Core courses

  • JSIS 541- Religion, Politics, and International Conflict (5.0 credits) – develops students’ Self- and Context-Evaluation skills through case studies of religion and policy in the United States and 2-3 other countries chosen by the instructor. These case studies examine the Janus-faced nature of religion, which can both enhance and undercut human security, as well as national security, to make students aware of their own pre-understandings about religion, allowing for respectful engagement with those who do not share those pre-understandings.
  • JSIS 578: Cross-cultural Religious Literacy (5.0 credits) – operationalizes Self -Evaluation by placing it in context, while introducing communication and negotiation. Students learn Context-Evaluation by examining how religion—as an analytic factor and/or social force for good or ill—applies to state and non-state diplomacy, economics, and military affairs, furthering their self-awareness through reflection papers. They then conduct landscape surveys placing religion within the social-political context of a particular country. These surveys feed into a policy writing assignment, in which students consider the actors and issues that will have to be negotiated pursuant practical policy recommendations. Negotiation by making recommendations on engaging specific religious actors in a particular complex environment of their choosing. Finally, since 80% of Communication is non-verbal, the course includes exercises on proxemics and other aspects of body language that commonly have religious importance. Critically, the course constantly returns to practical recommendations in particular situations, balancing religion and realpolitik, seeking reconciliation in both national and human security contexts. Offered through the fee-based Applied International Studies Option within the MAIS degree.

Country-level Specialization (7 credits)

Each student’s course of study culminates with a 5.0-credit elective, drawn from a list created and curated by the Faculty Director, with the input of the Core Faculty and Advisory Board.

The program’s final 2.0 credits consist of a Capstone Policy Proposal, in which students develop one of their existing memos into a full-fledged strategy for engaging religious actors in a target country. Faculty members will oversee the development of these proposals as independent studies, which will be evaluated via presentation before a panel of faculty and, when possible, practitioners.

Application: Students interested in the Certificate should apply by emailing the Comparative Religion Program Coordinator the following:

  • CV/resume
  • Unofficial college/university transcripts
  • 1-2 page personal statement explaining the reasons for their interest in religious literacy, reasons for applying to this certificate program, career goals, and how the Graduate Certificate in CCRL might further those career goals.

Please send the above materials to and Applications are accepted on a rolling basis.

Learn more about the Religion Initiative here.

Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy News & Selected Events

Book Talk: How We Win: how cutting-edge entrepreneurs, political visionaries, enlightened business leaders and social media mavens can defeat the extremist threat

“A new approach to countering global extremism. … With great passion and
commitment, Pandith, a perceptive observer and strategic thinker, argues that the fight
must encompass elements of government, business, private sector organizations, and
local communities and philanthropists, all working together with like-minded individuals
to stem the extremist tide. … An inspired, intensively focused examination of issues of
and solutions about extremist ideology, sure to inspire spirited debate.”
—Kirkus Reviews


“Drawing on her decades of experience, Pandith unweaves the tangled web of
extremism and demonstrates how government officials, tech CEOs, and concerned
citizens alike can do their part to defeat it.”
– Former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright

Find out more about the new book, How We Win, and read a conversation with Farah Pandith here.

Farah Pandith is a diplomatic entrepreneur, foreign policy strategist and former diplomat. Ms. Pandith, a pioneer in the field of countering violent extremism (CVE), has been a political appointee in the George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama administrations. She left government in early 2014 for Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government where she maintains an affiliation. She served on the Secretary of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) from 2015 to 2017, where she also chaired the HSAC subcommittee on countering violent extremism (CVE). Her book, How We Win (HarperCollins), will be released in early 2019. She is a public speaker and global advisor, driving efforts to counter extremism through new organizations, programs, and initiatives. She was a senior advisor and commissioner on the CSIS CVE Commission Report and is a member of the FDD Commission on US-Saudi Relations.

Fostering understanding: JSIS offers new cross-cultural religious literacy program

Mar 1, 2019

The UW’s Jackson School of International Studies (JSIS) will be offering a new Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy (CCRL) graduate certificate for any student enrolled in the UW graduate school program. Helping to bridge gaps between interdisciplinary scholars and global practitioners, the CCRL Initiative teaches skill sets where religion and realpolitik overlap.

“[Eighty-four] percent of the world believes in something greater than themselves,” Chris Seiple, senior research fellow and president emeritus of the Institute for Global Engagement, said. “You can’t ignore that, you have to deal with that, and you can’t just say we’ll put [religion] in a box over here.”

The program is meant to be both international and transcultural. Students of the program are able to major in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity, biblical and ancient near-Eastern religion, and religion and culture. The program also offers minors in the same areas, as well as Greco-Roman religions, East Asian indigenous religions, African religious traditions, and Native American traditions, according to the certificate website.

The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life estimates that there are 5.8 billion religiously affiliated adults and children around the globe.

“Whatever your vocation is, whatever your location, you’re going to be at some point engaging [with] somebody who self-identifies with a belief system that’s bigger than them, [so] how do you show that respect?” Seiple said.

Courses within the program aim to teach “historical, textual, anthropological, philosophical, psychological, and sociological approaches to the study of religions,” according to James Wellman, professor and chair of the JSIS comparative religion program. Some of the degree requirements include three years in a language that is appropriate for the major concentration, as well as an elementary reading knowledge of a secondary language.

The program is based on a cultural and political understanding of how religion is an essential component in public policymaking and will not teach religion. Rather, it will teach about it, according to Wellman.

“Each one of us has a point of view on culture and religion, and so before we go in to study other religions, we should be aware of our own faith, whatever that faith might be, whatever that position might be; each one of us has one,” Wellman said.

The Comparative Religion Program (CRP) is an interdisciplinary program that will be 10 months long and is best for students who will be attending full-time. It was designed to complement professional training and can be done concurrently with other professional degree programs at the UW, including business administration (MBA), forest resources (MFR/MS), law (JD), marine affairs (MMA), public affairs (MPA), and public health (MPH). However, it is not necessary to complete the CRP simultaneously.

“We recognize that we have multiple religious points of view in our own culture and in our state, including those people who have either no faith, religious faith per se, but certainly secular people have a point of view as well,” Wellman said. “So I think [cross-cultural religious literacy] simply widens the lens so that we either don’t become prejudiced or full of misunderstandings about others and really enable ourselves to … understand the other as we understand ourselves.”

Jackson School faculty and IPI senior fellow speak at Aspen Institute symposium

Jackson School Director Reşat Kasaba, professors Anand Yang, Jim Wellman, Mika Ahuvia, and IPI Senior Fellow Chris Seiple participated in the symposium Conscience, Community & Citizenship: Religious Pluralism in an Age of Religious Nationalism hosted by the Aspen Institute in Washington D.C. on October 9, 2018.

Dr. Wellman moderates the last panel of the morning session. Professors Kasaba and Yang speak on the first panel of the afternoon session. Dr. Seiple wraps up the final session of the day. Information on symposium participants, related reading, and links to recordings are available at the following link.

IPI senior fellow delivers 22nd annual Templeton lecture

IPI religion initiative senior fellow Chris Seiple gave the 22nd annual Templeton Lecture on Religion and World Affairs on October 30th, 2018. In the lecture he explores differences between faith and religion, multi-faith and interfaith, patriotism and nationalism, integration and assimilation. He also describes how to counter religious nationalism through what he calls faithful patriotism and covenantal pluralism. Chris begins speaking at 3 minutes 30 seconds. An article based on the lecture is available here.

Watch the video here!

Senior Fellow Chris Seiple joins Georgetown University working group in advising State Department on Engaging Religious Actors

As the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo considers how to re-arrange his Department’s handling of religion, IPI-Religion Fellow Chris Seiple joined 11 other senior scholars and foreign policy practitioners in issuing a white paper with their recommendations on that process. The working group also included Katherine Marshall (Executive Director, Word Faiths Development Dialogue & Senior Fellow, Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs), Peter Mandaville (Professor of International Affairs, George Mason University and former Senior Advisor, Office of Religion and Global Affairs, U.S. Department of State), and Judd Birdsall (Managing Director, Cambridge Institute for Religion and International Studies, University of Cambridge & former Foreign Affairs Officer, Office of International Religious Freedom, U.S. Department of State). Prior to joining the Jackson School, Seiple formed part of Secretary of State Hilary Clinton’s religion and foreign policy working group, whose recommendations led to the creation of the Office of Religion and Global Affairs in 2013.

Read more here

IPI-Religion discusses teaching partnership with Vietnamese National University-Hanoi

Professor Jim Wellman, head of the IPI-Religion Initiative, along with Chris Seiple and Randy Thompson, also both Sr. Fellows at the IPI, visited Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam this past summer from June 23rd-29th, 2018. The three were invited by Vietnam National University-Hanoi to discuss a potential partnership to deliver Cross-Cultural Religious Literacy training, based on materials developed through Carnegie’s funding for IPI-Religion. The meeting was a great success, and has subsequently led to a proposed seminar in the fall of 2019.

Jim Wellman with Mr. Nguyen Tam Chien, Former Ambassador to the United States and Current President of the Vietnam-USA Society

Jim Wellman with Mr. Nguyen Tam Chien, Former Ambassador to the United States and Current President of the Vietnam-USA Society

While in Hanoi, other activities included a meeting with the leadership of the Vietnam-USA Society – the government agency tasked with facilitating collaboration with US universities and NGOs.

Chris Seiple speaking at USSH

Chris Seiple speaking at USSH

Additionally, Chris Seiple delivered an address at the opening of the Religion and the Rule of Law Center at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities, and was invited by the Dean of the Diplomatic Academy of Hanoi to discuss the role of religion in our respective curricula.

IPI Senior Fellow Chris Seiple speaks on Council on Foreign Relations panel

International Policy Institute (IPI) Senior Fellow Chris Seiple spoke on a panel titled Religious Literacy in Global Affairs hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on May 9th, 2018. The panel was part of a religion and foreign policy workshop organized by CFR. A video and transcript of the discussion are available at the following link.

What is the key to defeating religious nationalism? Religious literacy skills, says IPI Senior Fellow Chris Seiple | World Economic Forum

Jackson School Affiliate Instructor and International Policy Institute Senior Fellow in Religion Chris Seiple writes in his article “How faith can overcome religious nationalism” that cross-cultural religious literacy skills are necessary to stand together as faithful patriots worldwide against religious nationalism. Read the full article here!