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Exploring Religious Identity in Omaha and Beyond

By Beth Katz

RavelUnravel Launches May 17

“Wait, you’re a Muslim? But you’re not even brown!”

 Emina Becirovic

Emina Becirovic

Emina was setting up a video blog for her interfaith youth service project two years ago. Instead of a tart response to her fellow-student, Emina videotaped her answer, using the opportunity to explain the diversity within Islam and her own identity as a Muslim.

She was part of Project Interfaith’s first video project, two years ago, when a group of 16 to 19 year-old teenagers created weekly blogs at service sites. Watching Emina’s first video, the peacemaking power of her approach impressed everyone, transforming a awkward situation into one of sharing and learning. What if we could give more people the chance to define and share their religious or spiritual identities in their own words and confront the misconceptions they have to live with?

Thus, RavelUnravel was born, an interactive, multimedia project launching May 17, focused on the diversity of religious and spiritual identities that make up our communities here in Omaha, Nebraska, and the world.

A call went out for volunteers to serve as interviewers for the project. Thirty-five were chosen, ranging in age from 20 to 80 years old and belonging to multiple ethnicities and 14 religious or spiritual identities. Interviewers were armed with handheld, cordless Flip camcorders and challenged to produce 150 video interviews with community members from different cultures and diverse beliefs in the Omaha, Nebraska metropolitan area.

Each interview covered the same four questions:

  • What is your religious or spiritual identity and why do you identify as such?
  • What is a stereotype that impacts you based on your religious or spiritual identity?
  • How welcoming do you find our community to follow your religious or spiritual path?
  • Is there anything else you would like us to know about you and your religion or belief system?

To ensure we got a diverse cross-section of Omaha, we reached out to a host of religious and spiritual communities, community groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and colleges. We invited them to host an interview team for a morning or afternoon. We also welcomed people to drop in at the Project Interfaith office to be interviewed.

The response blew us away.

 Six of RavelUnravel’s interviewers.

Six of RavelUnravel’s interviewers.

So many people wanted to be interviewed that we had to extend the original September-December 2010 interview period by three months, to March 2011. We now have over 720 video interviews. They represent a wide array of theistic and non-theistic religious and spiritual identities, including Agnostic, Atheist, Secular Humanist, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jehovah’s Witness, Jewish, Latter-day Saints, Muslim, Native American, Orthodox Christian, Protestant Christian, Roman Catholic, Seeker, Seventh Day Adventist, Sikh, Spiritual, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, and more. These short videos, along with a host of educational resources, will all be available at ravelunravel.com, starting on May 17, 2012. You can get a taste of what it will be like from the project’s trailer.

Why call it RavelUnravel? We’re exploring the tapestry of religious and spiritual identities that make up our communities and world and the complexities of how we construct and deconstruct identity. We hope this site puts a human face on religious and spiritual diversity and exposes the tremendous variety of beliefs and practices within religious and spiritual identity groups – thereby transforming the way users understand, learn, and talk about identity, spirituality, religion, and culture.

Beyond Omaha

Though the launch is still a month off, RavelUnravel is already catching people’s attention. Harvard University’s Pluralism Project conducted a video interview with RavelUnravel interviewers Kael Sagheer and Melissa Rotolo about their ‘take-aways’ from RavelUnravel (which they were still calling by its original name, the Community Mosaic Video Project). The Pluralism Project selected RavelUnravel as one of 33 “Promising Practices” of interfaith activity in the United States in its February 2012 report America’s Interfaith Infrastructure.

 Mockup of ravelunravel.com’s homepage

Mockup of ravelunravel.com’s homepage

Want to add your voice to the conversation? We’d love to have you film yourself answering the RavelUnravel questions via your webcam, smart phone, or other video-creating device, then upload your video to the site. The details for doing this will be on the website when it launches.

Launching the online site is a first step. Plans are in the works to mobilize a national RavelUnravel road tour with teams of interviewers visiting communities across the United States to capture more videos of people’s religious and spiritual identities and experiences.

E-mail us at ravelunravel@projectinterfaith.org to nominate your community to be a part of the national road tour.

We hope you accept the invitation to become part of Project Interfaith. The more of us who participate, the better educated and connected we will be about people of diverse beliefs and cultures. Together, we can make our communities more welcoming for and respectful of all of us.

Project Interfaith &

Its Newest Project

Launched in December 2005, Project Interfaith, a non-profit based in Omaha, Nebraska, grows understanding, respect and relationships among people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures.

We provide innovative community-building programs that educate and engage a variety of audiences on issues of faith, religion, identity, interfaith relations, and religious and cultural diversity.

We strive to create a community and world where people of all faiths, beliefs and cultures are valued, included and protected. As such, we seek to serve as a leader and resource on interfaith relations and religious and cultural diversity. Project Interfaith has been recognized by a variety of institutions at local, national and international levels. These include the White House, the U.S. State Department, the UN Alliance of Civilizations, and Harvard University’s Pluralism Project, which called our work “among the most innovative in the country.”

RavelUnravel, Project Interfaith’s newest project, features awebsite that includes…

  • 720+ video interviews collected from residents in the Omaha metropolitan area,
  • an interactive comments forum,
  • four downloadable discussion guides (for use with high school students, college students, community groups, and in the workplace),
  • links to credible, educational resources on religious and cultural diversity, and
  • information about other Project Interfaith programs and resources.

Users may…

  • make a video answering the four interview questions using their web or cell cameras and upload these videos to the site,
  • create and share on the site and through social media a customized collection of their favorite videos on the site,
  • engage in discussions using the online forums and discussion guides, and
  • view a randomly-selected video by using the site’s “shuffle” function.