Pluralism Project's Case Study Initiative

The Pluralism Project's case study initiative looks at the ways in which the Middle East conflict often emerges as a challenge to interfaith relations. “A Sign of Division” is in two parts: the “A” case brings the reader from the description of the dilemma to the point of a proposed solution; the “B” case describes the outcomes and resolution of the dispute.

This case looks at the ways in which the Middle East conflict often emerges as a challenge to interfaith relations. We invite you to consider using this case in your own educational context, and we invite your feedback.

“A Sign of Division” is in two parts: the “A” case brings the reader from the description of the dilemma to the point of a proposed solution; the “B” case describes the outcomes and resolution of the dispute.

For more information about the Case Study Initiative, please contact Ellie Pierce at:

Over the past fifteen years, the Pluralism Project has documented the changing religious landscape of America. We have studied the ways in which these changes, largely stimulated by the “new immigration” of the post-1965 period, have posed new issues for virtually every public institution in the United States, including all of our educational institutions.

At the same time, there has also been increasing research in the field of education documenting the effectiveness of case studies in learning, either as a substitute for or an enhancement of the primarily lecture-based courses that are still the usual fare in many universities and theological schools. Indeed, research has consistently shown that active case-study learning is far more effective in teaching critical thinking than lectures.1

The Pluralism Project has developed a Case Study Initiative to explore how the case method can be creatively applied to teaching and learning in the theological and religious studies classroom. Our basic texts are the issues that arise in the contexts of our civil society, public life, and religious communities. Staff and graduate students are currently researching, writing, and refining case studies on topics ranging from inclusiveness in city-sponsored prayers to a controversy over bringing the kirpan to school.

In fall 2007, and again in spring 2009, Diana Eck will utilize the method when teaching the course “Religion in Multicultural America: Case Studies in Religious Pluralism.” We have begun to engage colleagues at other institutions in the teaching of case studies as we refine and expand this work. Our goal is to create a small case collection to serve as a curricular resource for teachers in a wide range of educational settings. Funding from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Center for the Study of World Religions (CSWR) at Harvard Divinity school have been critical to this work.

In May 2008, the CSWR hosted a case discussion and workshop, led by Dr. Willis Emmons of Harvard Business School’s Christensen Center for Teaching and Learning. The focus of discussion was our newest case, “Driven by Faith,” developed by Pluralism Project Senior Researcher Ellie Pierce. The first page of the case study follows:

Driven by Faith or Customer Service? Muslim Taxi Drivers at the MSP Airport
When Steve Wareham heard that there had been another formal complaint about taxi service at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP), it came as no surprise. As Airport Director, Wareham had been working with the taxi advisory council for years to improve customer service. Together, they enhanced the taxicab ordinance with input from drivers, owners, and taxi companies. Wareham was proud of the progress made on key service issues through this collaborative process. But not every problem had been solved: one issue, which threatened to derail the larger process, had been tabled.

Beginning in 2002, Airport Staff became aware that some passengers who were carrying alcohol – often visible in the plastic bags from duty-free shops — had been refused taxi service. The drivers, many of whom were Muslims from Somalia, explained that their faith did not permit them to consume or transport alcohol. Wareham and his colleagues at the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), the regional governing body for airports, found the issue troubling. Such service refusals were prohibited by the taxicab ordinance: drivers who refused a fare for any reason were sent to the end of the line, and had to wait two to four hours for another fare. Losing fares represented a significant economic and practical hardship; for the drivers, this was an issue of religious accommodation.

Yet, given the practical concerns that arose curbside, and the number of passenger complaints, refusals had also emerged as a serious customer service issue. Passengers being moved from one taxi to another disrupted the flow of traffic, and posed a safety concern. Those who were refused service were confused and frustrated, and often insulted: on one occasion, a traveler threw a bottle of wine to the pavement in anger.

Since Wareham became Airport Director in 2004, he had worked closely with Landside, the department that handles parking and commercial vehicles, to resolve the issue. Early on, he sought input from Somali community representatives and Muslim leaders. For a time, the taxi starter — a dispatcher employed by the MAC — would provide bags to travelers in order to cover the wine or other visible alcohol. It was a “don’t see, don’t look” policy. This worked for a while, but soon the drivers began refusing service to those carrying the distinctive bags. One cab company, which had all Muslim drivers, suggested that the starter refer passengers with alcohol to a cab from another company. After a few days, the MAC was asked to discontinue the practice: the loss of business proved difficult for the drivers and owners alike.

On March 29, 2006, Wareham received a message from Vicki Tigwell, the Chair of the MAC. She forwarded the most recent customer complaint: ‘My wife and I needed a cab from MSP to Apple Valley. The starter directed us to a cab. After loading most of our luggage, he (the driver), noticed I was carrying duty-free liquor, and refused to transport us. The next three cabs also refused. The starter came out and finally located a driver who would take us. We were very unhappy about this abysmal treatment by four cab drivers. … I request you take action against the company and the driver, and draft a policy to prevent this behavior in the future.’2

Tigwell’s message ended with a directive for Wareham: “I expect you to solve this.”3

“Driven by Faith” clearly presents a dilemma: in doing so, it also provides a means to grapple with some of the important issues our society faces in confronting the challenges of religious pluralism. As in all of the Pluralism Project’s cases, it grows out of a real controversy and may be understood as emblematic of a larger issue. In this instance, the question of how Wareham might respond to the Airport Commission’s call to solve the problem of fare refusals — amidst competing interests — raises complex issues about the limits of religious accommodation.

The case study takes Steve Wareham as its central character, outlining his perspective, professional path, and commitment to a collaborative process. It briefly mentions applicable ordinances and laws as a point of reference; it also includes, as an attachment, the ruling, or fatwa, from a local Muslim organization on the issue. The case highlights other voices, including taxi drivers who believe this is an issue of religious accommodation and the passengers who consider it an issue of customer service. The narrative also describes the unique setting of the dispute: a Midwestern airport at which the majority of the drivers are Somali Muslim refugees. Through thick description, students are better able to “inhabit” the case and take an imaginative leap into the controversy when asked, “If you were Steve Wareham, how would you respond?” Or, “If you were a taxi driver, what solution might you propose?”

The written case provides a starting point for critical thinking, investigation, and discussion. As students begin to engage with the case, they explore some of the questions that will arise for them in their professional lives as educators or clergy, or in their public lives as citizens and leaders of a complex and religiously diverse society. In the course of case discussion, students become active participants who are asked to analyze situations, identify boundary conditions, formulate responses, evaluate performances, and construct creative responses to conflict.

The discussion itself is guided by a series of questions, which are often open-ended: “What, if anything, does Wareham need to know about the religious needs of the drivers to make this decision?” In discussion, students may also explore the larger consequences of decision-making: “What are the risks of doing nothing?” followed by, “What are the risks of doing something?” Students may be asked to vote: “How many of you are impressed by the approach Wareham is taking?” As the conversation progresses, students are asked: “Is this the real issue or are there other issues?” And, “Is there a compromise here, or is there a null set of options?”

“Driven by Faith” is in two parts: the “A” case brings the reader from the description of the dilemma to the point of a proposed solution; the “B” case describes the outcomes and resolution of the dispute. For more information about the Case Study Initiative, please contact Ellie Pierce at:

1. See the many studies cited by Derek C. Bok in Our Underachieving Colleges , Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006, chapter 5. The same critique would most certainly hold for theological schools in which the theological dilemmas of “real life” theological thinking rarely have a place and active case-based learning is still in its infancy.

2. Steve Wareham, “Muslim Taxi Driver Cultural Clash at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport (MSP): Does Accepting a Customer with Alcohol in their Possession Violate a Prohibition of the Koran?” (Master’s Thesis, Bethel University, 2007) p. 6.

3. Steve Wareham: Steve Wareham, interview by Ellie Pierce, Bloomington, MN, February 28 & 29, 2008.