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Media Advisory: Expert Available: Divinity school professor tells how to talk politics with friends/family

By Cheryl Walker ('88), walkercv@wfu.edu, 336.758.6073 Office of Communications and External Relations

To figure out how to talk about politics without getting in virtual—or actual—fist fights, Wake Forest University School of Divinity professor Michelle Voss Roberts says we should take our cues from a surprising place – religion.

Religion and politics are notoriously divisive topics.  With the November elections on the horizon, discussing politics with friends and family can be challenging.  Many avoid conflict by talking only with like-minded people.

But Voss Roberts suggests we can learn something from what has worked to encourage civil conversations about religion. She says the following ground rules for interreligious dialogue are relevant for creating more peaceful political discussions.

1.      Assume the best. Be honest and sincere, and expect the same intentions in those who differ from you.

2.      Allow others to define themselves. You are not talking to a stereotype or a caricature, but a living, thinking person. When you describe their position, they should be able to see themselves there.

3.      Compare apples to apples. It is unfair to compare the lofty ideals of one side with the missteps, gaffes, and constrained actions of the other.

4.      Develop a capacity for self-criticism. We can only learn from one another if we are able to acknowledge our own mistakes and admit that we do not have all the answers.

Why bother?

“Political and religious affiliations form the bedrock of deeply held notions of truth, authority, and identity. In both realms, converts and the disaffected hold their convictions with particular passion,” says Voss Roberts, who is an assistant professor of theology and culture. “The entire world is at stake in political and religious disagreements, yet genuine interchanges can surprise and delight us.”

Voss Roberts originally shared these “ground rules” in a blog on Huffington Post.

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About Wake Forest
University: Wake Forest University combines the best traditions of a small liberal arts college with the resources of a large research university. Founded in 1834, the school is located in Winston-Salem, N.C. The University’s graduate school of arts and sciences, divinity school, and nationally ranked schools of law, medicine and business enrich our intellectual environment. Learn more about Wake Forest University at www.wfu.edu.

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