Carmen George

Project helps teach ethnic and religious diversity in California

Fresno State associate professor Vincent Biondo with students Lupe Remigio and Jordan Pringle, research assistants behind the California Pluralism Project.
Fresno State associate professor Vincent Biondo with students Lupe Remigio and Jordan Pringle, research assistants behind the California Pluralism Project. Special to The Bee

Diversity isn’t an abstract subject for two Fresno State research assistants behind the California Pluralism Project, a new online educational resource about the state’s many ethnicities and religions.

Lead research assistant Lupe Remigio’s family is now Pentecostal. But growing up in Mexico, they identified as Catholic while also practicing “curanderismo,” traditional folk healing. Research assistant Jordan Pringle says, “My father is black, my mother is white, so I’m sort of like a brown.”

For Vincent Biondo, director of the pluralism project and associate professor at Fresno State who teaches about religion, this information came as a welcome, but not surprising, addition to the project.

Fresno, and California, has people from every world religion, Biondo says.

“I just hired these two because they are brilliant students and I found out they had personal histories of diversity,” Biondo says. “This is more and more common because of intermarriage – inter-religious marriage, inter-ethnic marriage. More and more people have these hybrid identities.”

The team recently launched californiapluralism.org online after pooling the knowledge of faculty experts around the state since early 2014. They are now opening up a video contest on religious diversity in California. Deadline for submissions is Dec. 15.

The contest is another way to engage with the community – an attempt to make the learning and teaching interactive and inclusive, Biondo says.

Everyone in the world watches California to see if we are going to be able to cooperate and work together, so we can be a role model for other places.

Vincent Biondo

The California Pluralism Project and video contest is funded by $100,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and was inspired largely by The Pluralism Project at Harvard University.

The free online resources, which include lesson plans and short video lectures, are meant to help teachers tackle sometimes difficult subjects.

“The first unit is on the First Amendment, about the separation of church and state and how to talk about religion in public schools,” Biondo says. “We think it’s very important that people are familiar with the Constitution and that people are familiar with what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. One of our ideas is that to participate in a democratic society, you have to have civic and religious literacy.”

There really aren’t that many differences between people.

Jordan Pringle

Remigio, 24, says the California Pluralism Project is about helping people “understand they can do a lot more things when they are together as opposed to focusing on their differences.”

Pringle, 20, adds that “ending violence through education … so that violence through ignorance ceases to happen, or at least slows down” is a primary goal.

The team also hopes the project helps families and prepares more students to succeed in college.

Everybody is diverse, everybody.

Savannah Corbin

Fresno State student Savannah Corbin, 19, will be participating in the project’s religious diversity video contest. She’s looking forward to helping educate more people about the state’s diversity by showcasing her personal story.

“My dad’s African American and my mom is Native American,” Corbin says. “So I grew up in a Christian/Native American household. … I went to pow wows and I went to Sunday school. … I learned that it’s OK to have both.”

Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge

Video contest details

  • Contest run by the California Pluralism Project at Fresno State.
  • Videos should be three to nine minutes long and about “my diverse California religious experience.”
  • Prizes: Grand prize ($3,000), three runner-ups ($1,500 each) and 10 honorable mentions ($500 each).
  • Deadline is Dec. 15.
  • More information is available online at californiapluralism.org.
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