New Center to explore the role of religion in politics at Washington University

January 5, 2010 | By | Reply More

Wonderful news from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. The Danforth Foundation has made a huge financial contribution to create a specialized Center on Religion & Politics. Former U.S. Senator John Danforth was instrumental in making this possible. The following is from the Center’s press release, which was issued last month:

$30 million endowment gift from Danforth Foundation funds creation of center

Washington, D.C., Dec. 16, 2009 — Washington University in St. Louis is establishing a scholarly and educational center that will focus on the role of religion in politics in the United States, according to Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton.

“The establishment of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics reflects the legacy of Jack Danforth and his belief in the importance of a civil discourse that treats differences with respect,” Wrighton said in making the announcement Dec. 16 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Washington University (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

Washington University (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

“The center will serve as an ideologically neutral place that will foster rigorous, unbiased scholarship and encourage conversations between diverse and even conflicting points of view,” Wrighton said.

“Knowing that religious values and beliefs can either encourage or undermine civility, the center and its educational programs and scholarly research can provide a bridge between religious and political communities and will inform new kinds of academic explorations focusing on the relationships between the two. We think that’s a worthy goal.”

The creation of the center, which includes the recruitment of five new faculty members with endowed professorships, is being made possible by a $30 million endowment gift from the St. Louis-based Danforth Foundation. It is believed to be the largest gift of its kind made to a university to fund such an academic center.

The center opens January 2010 and will convene public conferences and lectures to address local, state and national issues related to religion and politics and also will offer an educational program in religion and politics, including an interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in religion and public life.

The new faculty appointments will be in the area of American religion and politics and will complement the work of scholars already on the Washington University faculty in the departments of history, anthropology, literatures and religious studies. The new faculty members will hold joint appointments between the new center and existing academic departments.

The center will attract visiting scholars to St. Louis and create opportunities for interaction with Washington University faculty, students and members of the St. Louis community. It also plans to publish and disseminate proceedings of conferences and results of studies by faculty, visiting scholars and students of the center.

“Historically, the responsibility for this kind of dialogue has most often been left to universities with religious connections,” said Danforth. “But great non-sectarian institutions like Washington University combine rigorous academic standards with traditions of civil conversation, and that’s why this is the perfect place for such a center. Few issues are more critical to the well being of a democracy than how religious beliefs — or the denial of such beliefs — co-exist with civic virtue and of how the ‘truths’ of the one are made compatible with the toleration and good will required by the other.”

The Columbia Missourian (based in Columbia, Missouri), provides additional context:

John Danforth, 73, of St. Louis, has often been at odds with others in the GOP because of his concerns about the influence of the Christian right. In newspaper columns, speeches and in a book, he has argued that Christian conservatives have focused on divisive issues that polarize Americans.

Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton said the center in St. Louis will reflect Danforth’s belief “in civil discourse that treats differences with respect.”

“The center will serve as an ideologically neutral place that will foster rigorous, unbiased scholarship and encourage conversations between diverse and even conflicting points of view,” Wrighton said.

This is a wonderful development.  Washington University is a first-rate center of scholarship, and there might not be a more important topic in these times.   Here is yet more information on the new Center, from Washington University’s website.

I very much like the motto for the Center:  “Common ground for civil dialogue.”


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Category: Communication, Community, Culture, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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