Incoroprating Faith into City Planning and Academia

I recently came upon a podcast posted by Urbanophile entitled “Faith and City Planning.” I am a Christian and aspiring Urban Planner, so I was immediately intrigued. The podcast is a discussion between two MIT urban planning professors, Annette Kim and Phil Thompson. The full podcast can be found here.

While the podcast does address this topic in regards to city planning, it highly focuses on the role of faith in academia in general. The professors discuss how faith ceases being talked about once a student enters the classroom. Kim says that although you’re still catholic, once you are in class, you don’t talk about it.

Thompson tries to tie in the Civil Rights Movement as an example of major social movements being faith centered. He states that it was the essence of the Civil Rights Movement, and that if we don’t talk about that, then we’re not telling the whole story.


He also gives an example of Native American spirituality, and the idea of seeing everything as having a spirit, and that if you don’t see that, you won’t survive. He continues on as to how this idea is also central for environmentalism.

Kim discusses how this type of discussion does not fit into the academic realm and that their is a climate of silence and fear. She says that it feels like something we are not allowed to talk about because it is not “intellectual” or “valid.” However, she believes that students should be encouraged to explore their moral development and wisdom, along with their intellect and critical thinking.

Kim discusses that a major reason that the idea of faith should be talked about in planning is because most students go into planning for moral reasons. Students are seeking to learn what is better, what is right, and the ways to make things better.

What I found interesting as well in the discussion is their emphasis of understanding how faith has motivated people throughout history (such as the Civil Rights Movement). What stood out to me as well, is when Kim states that we have to understand how oppressed people survived so long, and where their hope came from.

They continue to discuss the fact that faith is rich and complicated, and that adding this to academic discussions will only make us more intelligent.

Overall, the podcast tied in faith, social justice, diversity, and academics in a really interesting and thought-provoking way. I was really intrigued by the discussion of how faith has played a huge role in several social justice movements and how it has been key to several oppressed peoples survival. I also thought it was interesting to encourage academia to help develop students morals and ethics, which will only help increase their intellect.

I also do believe their are several educators out there who do a great job already of some of these suggestions, and that these statements do not apply to everyone. However, I believe there are benefits to minimizing discussion of one’s personal faith in the classroom. I know in a lot of situations, people are not always as understanding of each others beliefs, and it could make some students feel uncomfortable and interfere with the learning process. Also, if educators too strongly push their own beliefs, it can make students uncomfortable to share their own viewpoints. The goal would be to create the safest space possible, where educators can facilitate discussion of religion, morals, and ethics with students able to freely share without judgement or ridicule from others. This is an ideal situation though, and I understand it is not always easy to achieve.

Also, I don’t believe you need to follow set religious parameters in order to be a moral person or believe strongly in social activism. The podcast discussed that the social movements of today may not be as effective as they were in the past due to a lack of faith as a motivator. While I certainly believe faith can be a huge and prominent motivator in social action, I do not believe people cannot bring social change if they do not identify with a religion.

I wish they discussed a bit more on incorporating faith and ethics into city planning, but I do believe this is worth a listen. Definitely check it out and let me know what you think! 🙂

Or rather, what role do you think faith, religion, ethics, or morals should play in the classroom? How do you balance encouraging intellect with moral development? 

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4 thoughts on “Incoroprating Faith into City Planning and Academia

  1. seekthiscity says:

    Super interesting! I am thinking about this in terms of my poverty class, too. We talked ever-so-briefly about the CRM, obviously we didn’t discuss the moral drive behind it. I like the point about the development of morals and the role that plays in student’s decisions and intellect. I think regardless of religion, academia could stand to have a stronger emphasis on morals like integrity, honesty, respect. I think that would greatly impact the experience, mostly for the better. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like my argument would automatically be disqualified by my peers if it was a religion-based. Maybe not in all situations, but referring back to my poverty class. Had I even mentioned that my hope for the future relies in Jesus and His shalom, I would have been looked at as the nut who is part of the Prosperity Gospel! Okay…that is all 🙂

    • One of the issues that they addressed in the podcast was that if students viewpoints are faith based that they will not be seen as valid or intellectual because, in terms of Christianity, people assume you’re automatically incredibly conservative and right-wing. Which, even if that were true, everyone should be able to share their opinions (in a respectful manner) as well as be received respectfully. But, they wanted to point out that their have been several people of faith who have been involved with radical social movements. I think that it goes back to what you said about teaching students to respect each other and care for one another, and be understanding that there are many viewpoints to be heard!
      Thanks for the comment, your poverty class was really interesting and I learned a lot by just hearing you talk about it! 🙂

  2. mattwigway says:

    City planning especially is a field where religion can be quite relevant. I’m thinking of Paul Wheatley’s City as Symbol lecture, in which he argued that the non-traditional city (i.e. outside the Western world) was historically largely based on being a religious channel. The city was a religious symbol. While religion may not be as instrumental in the planning of modern cities (or is it?), it is important for understanding historical urbanization.

    What makes cities incredible is that they are places where many viewpoints come together. The cities that Wheatley talks about I feel largely come from singular religious backgrounds, whereas modern cities are developed by residents from many backgrounds, including religious ones. I’m curious how different religious contexts can still influence city structure. Unlike the cities Wheatley examined, though, most modern cities respond to multiple religious contexts, as well as a multitude of secular contexts.

    Incidentally, Wheatley’s talk is available at . I haven’t read the entire thing but I’ve read much of it and skimmed the rest.

  3. Justin says:

    Faith is everything. Without faith there would be no morality, no science, no cities, and no city planning. Faith is the source of all our humanity.

    I love that quote by Martin Luther King Jr. that you posted. His speeches and examples really helped change my opinion on faith. I used to have a very negative opinion of faith in part because of right-wing extremist Christianity which frequently confuses faith with blatant ignorance. I think that’s also why it is so often discouraged from discussion in academia.

    I think that modern academia has also embraced a materialist philosophy which has left people hungry in spirit. In their quest for truth the philosophers and scientists of our era have rejected faith and the supernatural while forgetting that it was faith in truth which motivated them to begin with and that science itself is the evidence of a power of mind above nature.

    It also doesn’t help that much of our religion and morality has become empty rituals without meaning. We have become too focused on intellectual reason and have forgotten about emotional reason. We don’t teach kids why they should learn things or why they should behave morally. This goes for city planning and environmental studies as well. The first lesson in any city planning class should be pictures of 19th century cities overflowing with pollution and poverty. When people grasp this emotionally they’ll understand the why and then will become much more involved intellectually.

    The same goes for encouraging moral development with intellectual development. The ‘why’ should be answered first. Why do this at all? Because intelligence is power and without the proper moral foundation that power will inevitably be corrupted by the evil in our hearts. I think this is why Jesus focused on teaching people morality first and not science. If he revealed the secrets of nature to humanity without revealing to them the secrets of the heart they would have remained the same but with a greater potential for evil. We should follow the same example with ourselves make moral development a priority.

    Perhaps the best way to bring faith into the classroom is to show people Jesus rather than talk about Jesus. Oftentimes words can actually betray the message they are trying to convey. Especially in academia, If you start talking about a talking snake and virgin birth to people who don’t know Jesus then you’ll actually turn people away from Jesus. But if you show people Jesus in your passion for social justice and personal behavior then they’ll understand you and your faith much better.

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