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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Syracuse, Le Moyne to Address Faith-Based Labor Organizing April 10-11

Symposium features nearly 20 panelists from North and South America, Europe

March 13, 2015, by Rob Enslin

Vincent Lloyd
Vincent Lloyd
Scholars and practitioners from around the globe will descend on Central New York for a two-day symposium on faith-based labor organizing.

Religion and Labor: Moral Vision from and for the Grassroots” will be held at Syracuse University on Friday, April 10, from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and at Le Moyne College (1419 Salt Springs Rd., Syracuse) on Saturday, April 11, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Venues are TBA.

The symposium is free and open to the public, but registration is required. For more information, contact co-organizers Vincent Lloyd at and Fred Glennon at

Syracuse’s sponsors are the Labor Studies Working Group in the Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration in the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, as well as the Department of Religion in Syracuse’s College of Arts and Sciences. Le Moyne’s sponsors are the McDevitt Center for Creativity and Innovation, the Religious Studies Program, and the Lectures Committee

"We will explore the potential for moral resources within religious traditions for labor activism and labor justice,” says Lloyd, assistant professor of religion at Syracuse. “Our goal is to foster a dialogue about the religious and ethical scholarship of labor justice, in hopes of promoting greater intellectual depth for faith-based labor organizing.”

Adds Glennon, professor of religious studies at Le Moyne: “After decades of decline and declining visibility, labor organizing has re-captured the attention of the American public. Much of this activity is happening at the grassroots level with ‘faith-based’ organizations and religion-labor coalitions. We see this trend as an opportunity to connect religion and labor with scholarship and activism.”

“Religion and Labor” features theorists, ethicists, theologians, and historians from the United States, Canada, Brazil, and Belgium. They are as follows: 

• The Rev. Kaaren Anderson, senior minister of the First Unitarian Church of Rochester, N.Y.;

• Janel Bailey, national organizer at Interfaith Worker Justice in Chicago, Ill.;

• Gerald Beyer, associate professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University;

• Heath Carter, assistant professor of history at Valparaiso University;

• Gary Dorrien, the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary and professor of religion at Columbia University;

• Ken Estey, assistant professor of political science at Brooklyn College;

• David L. Gregory, the Dorothy Day Professor of Law and executive director of the Center for Labor and Employment Law at St. John’s University;

• Christine Firer Hinze, professor of theology and co-director of The Francis and Ann Curran Center for American Catholic Studies at Fordham University;

• The Rev. Jennifer Leath, pastor of the Campbell African Methodist Episcopal Church in Media, Pa., and visiting lecturer in women’s studies and religious ethics at Harvard University;

• Jonathan Malesic, associate professor of theology at King’s College (Pa.);

• Sara Niccoli, executive director of the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition;

• Jeremy Posadas, assistant professor of religious studies at Austin College; 

• Inese Radzins, assistant professor of theology and the Dorothea Harvey Professor of Swedenborgian Studies at the Pacific School of Religion;

• Joerg Rieger, the Wendland-Cook Endowed Professor of Constructive Theology at Southern Methodist University;

• Melissa Snarr, associate professor of ethics and society and an associate dean for academic affairs at Vanderbilt University; 

• Jung Mo Sung, professor of religion at the Methodist University of São Paulo (Brazil);

• Janis Thiessen, assistant professor of history at The University of Winnipeg (Canada) and president of the Canadian Committee on Labour History; and

• Stephan van Erp, associate professor of fundamental theology at the University of Leuven (Belgium).
Fred Glennon
Fred Glennon
Labor organizing has become a hot-button issue lately, as evidenced by Wisconsin’s decision to end forced unionization, the growing demand for a higher U.S. minimum wage, and rising concern over the exploitation and abuse of undocumented workers and foreign migrants.

It is against this backdrop that nonprofits, such as Interfaith Worker Justice, are rediscovering their “religious mission” and are partnering with churches, synagogues, and mosques to address issues of labor exploitation, injustice, and resistance. As a result, religion-labor coalitions are starting to spring up at the local, state, and national levels.

“On one hand, religion-labor coalitions are good because they bring together religious leaders and union members for sustained conversation and coordination,” Lloyd says. “On the other hand, some coalitions come under fire for failing to engage with the moral resources of their religious traditions.”

He and Glennon believe this symposium marks the first time, in recent memory, that religious scholars, particularly theorists and ethicists, are addressing labor organizing at the grassroots level.  

“Sometimes, these kinds of programs can be myopic,” Glennon adds. “We want to avoid that by bringing a global, interdisciplinary perspective to the issues. No doubt that these discussions will grow to encompass many religious traditions and cultures. We’re just getting started.”