As many scholars stress that religion continues to anchor the lives of individuals around the world, they urge religious participation beyond houses of worship and universities through community engagement in what Rev. Miguel de la Torre calls "feet-on-the-ground theology."
Working directly with the public fuels scholarship, said de la Torre, who is also a professor and author in Denver, Colorado.
"Those of us from a liberationist tradition believe that the theoretical work, the research work, can only be cutting edge—it can only be effective—if it's rooted in what the people's lives are about. So for me to have rigorous scholarship, I really have no choice but to be engaged in the community and engage in bringing about some type of justice where justice is such a short commodity."
A critical component of religiously linked activism is listening to communities' unique perspectives, values, challenges, and needs rather than immediately issuing suggestions with little knowledge of the community.
David Carrasco, Harvard University professor and historian, said engaging in rigorous discussion on these topics with prisoners, students, and the elderly—often underestimated groups when it comes to activism—shows respect and dignity and provides an opportunity to glean valuable insights on the community as a whole.
Direct involvement within communities transforms theoretical scholarship into measurable impact.
"If our work has no impact on society, then why are we doing it?" de la Torre said. "The work we do has to mean something beyond the academy."