Roman R. Williams, PhD

Engage stakeholders visually and put insights into action.

About

Roman R. Williams is Associate Professor of Sociology at Calvin University, Grand Rapids, MI and Executive Officer of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion. He uses the tools of visual sociology, design thinking, and process consulting to engage stakeholders and help put insights into action. Read More

Talks

The Disruptive Power of Photographs

Cameras are everywhere these days and the smartphones they are attached to can be quite a distraction. Instead of trying to regulate their use in places like classrooms, lecture halls, meetings, and worship services, what if we could harness their potential to engage participants? This talk describes five strategies for embracing the disruptive potential of cell phone photographs.

Seeing and Believing: The Art and Social Science of Photovoice in Interfaith Dialogue

Typically, interfaith dialogue happens in an auditorium where a priest, rabbi, and imam offer perspectives from their religious tradition on a common topic. The audience shuffles in, listens passively to this thoughtful dialogue, and shuffles out without much meaningful interaction with people outside their own religion. These dialogues are important, helpful, and interesting, but too often the opportunity for audience members to build relationships across religious differences is not part of the program.

Interfaith photovoice reimagines dialogue by engaging participants at the grassroots level. This is accomplished by convening diverse groups of participants who use their own photographs to discuss their faith in everyday life.

This talk describes photovoice as a tool for grassroots interfaith dialogue. In it I also discuss the social science behind photovoice, drawing from three photovoice projects in the United States and Canada involving Christians and Muslims. Along with helping people see and understand the religions of their co-participants, I explain how interfaith photovoice can strengthen communities and reduce prejudice.

Workshops

Workshops offer a way to  engage stakeholders around an issue or question important to your organization or community. In the span of a few hours, participants use photographs to have conversations about their needs, experiences, and concerns. Working together in small groups, participants learn to see the world through the eyes of other participants and work together to  understand their shared experiences. By the end of a workshop they generate materials that help to describe needs/concerns/experiences and to imagine alternative futures. Along the way, they build relationships with one another that can be leveraged to help advance the goals of the organization.

Previous workshops have helped groups wrestle with organizational change, community issues, identify needs, and innovate.

Research

Understanding the needs, concerns, behaviors, and experiences of people can be tricky. How do you know if what you are seeing or hearing is an accurate understanding of what is really going on? Do you know enough to design a compelling product or to redesign a program? Are your assumptions being challenged by evidence grounded in the everyday lives of those your organization serves?

The tools of visual sociology can be applied to a wide variety of research questions and needs. While my scholarly interests orbit around religion and spirituality, I am constantly curious about the everyday lives of ordinary people. I can help you develop a deep contextual understanding of social and cultural experiences and trends so you can be more effective and innovative in your work.

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