For a number of years, the American Academy of Religion (AAR) and the Center for Engaged Religious Pluralism (CERP) cosponsored G-CARD training conversations for senior officials who oversee chaplaincy in governmental institutions, including statewide and federal prison chaplaincy directors, senior military chaplains, and those who oversee military chaplaincy endorsements.
The rationale for the program included:
- Chaplains need religious pluralism education
- The Constitution requires the needs be met of those incarcerated
- Incarcerated populations are religiously diverse
- Most chaplains’ religious expertise is limited to Christianity
- AAR members have subject matter expertise and are happy to participate in practical application
The conversations focused on religions in all their diversity, especially on religions that tend to be less familiar. The conference also provided updates on the law affecting chaplaincy, as well as opportunities for attendees to share best practices across jurisdictions.
The training conversations were originally offered to state and federal correctional institution chaplaincy directors and later added military chaplaincy. These conversations were held in conjunction with the AAR Annual Meetings across the United States.
The session topics varied from year to year, based on the needs of those expressing interest in attending. Always included was a basic primer on understanding the legal issues involved in providing religious accommodation and the chaplain’s role in ensuring such accommodation takes place—including an update on recent court decisions. Most of the rest of the program consisted of sessions with leading religious studies experts on religious groups the attendees have encountered, but whose practices may not be familiar. In the sessions, attendees learned about adherents’ beliefs, ritual objects, worship space, garments, holidays, literature, dietary or grooming restrictions, and more. Most sessions were about an hour and a half in length and included significant time for participants’ questions and discussion. Session time was allotted to best practices discussions among the attendees about various religions on topics such as accommodation of religious attire and artifacts/items, diet, and communal rituals, security threat groups or accommodating chaplains’ religious rights.
Over the years, more than thirty leading religion scholars and chaplaincy directors from twenty-six states and the Federal Bureau of Prisons have participated.