Palos mosque controversy: A Harvard case study

Posted on September 10, 2007

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Harvard University students are going to be studying Palos Heights this fall.

A case study titled “A Mosque in Palos Heights,” based on real events in that city in 2000, has been developed by Harvard’s Pluralism Project, which studies America’s changing religious diversity to better understand its impact on society.

In 2000, the Al Salam Mosque Foundation signed a contract to buy the Reformed Church, which was planning to move and build a new, larger building.

The ensuing public uproar generated national media attention, charges of religious bigotry and a town hall meeting that produced both stirring speeches promoting tolerance and demeaning remarks about Muslims.

At the center of the controversy was Dean Koldenhoven, the mayor of Palos Heights, who is the key figure in Harvard’s case study.

While the case study attempts to reflect opinions expressed by all of the major participants, Ellie Pierce, the senior researcher on the project and its author admits that Koldenhoven became the “protagonist of the story.”

“Every good story has to have a protagonist to engage the reader,” Pierce said in a telephone interview from Cambridge, Mass. “And all of the personal conflicts involving the mayor — his deep sense of Christian values; the Constitution; his belief in doing what was best for his community as his neighbors ridiculed him and the death of his son at a critical point in the dispute — all help people identify with this story.”

The case study has two parts, although a third is in development.

Case Study A basically develops the background, identifies the origins of the controversy and recreates the community debate as accurately as possible given its limited format.

Case Study B details the aftermath of the conflict. [more]

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