University receives $30 million gift to establish religious and politics center

| Editor-in-Chief
The John. C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics opens in January. For the center to be successful, Danforth emphasized that all opinions on the role of religion in politics must be analyzed and discussed in an academic manner. (Joshua Goldman | Student Life)

The John. C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics opens in January. For the center to be successful, Danforth emphasized that all opinions on the role of religion in politics must be analyzed and discussed in an academic manner. (Joshua Goldman | Student Life)

The University announced this morning that it received a $30 million endowment gift from the Danforth Foundation to establish a center for religion and politics on campus.

Set to open in January 2010, the center will examine the role of religion in American political discourse.

Five new faculty members to be given endowed professorships will be recruited to help with the efforts of the center. These new faculty members will be specialists in the area of American politics and religion and will hold joint appointments with the center and another existing academic department.

The center will hold public conferences and lectures to address local, state and national issues related to religion and politics and will also offer  an educational program in religion and politics. An interdisciplinary undergraduate minor in religion and public life will also be established.
“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,” Chancellor Mark Wrighton said in a press release.

The center will be called, The John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics, and is named after John Danforth, a retired Republican senator who represented Missouri in the U.S. Senate for 18 years.

Based on both his political and religious background, Danforth’s involvement in the establishment of the center comes as no surprise. The former senator is an ordained Episcopalian priest and in recent years has drawn headlines about his vocal opposition to what he deems as the Republican Party’s transformation into a group of conservative Christians. In 2006 he authored a book titled, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together.

“Historically, the responsibility for this kind of dialogue has most often been left to universities with religious connections,” Danforth said in the press release. “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.”
Wayne Fields, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Chair in English at the University, was named as the center’s founding director. Fields has been at the University since 1968 and is the founding director of the University’s American Culture Studies Program.

Wrighton, Fields and Danforth were all present to announce the center’s creation at a press conference in Washington D.C. at the National Press Club.

This announcement comes just months after Wrighton announced a 30 percent endowment decline from its peak value two years ago.

The three leaders will meet at 3 p.m on campus for another press conference. Check back for more information.

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    Thanks, Matt! Frank Flinn, an Adjunct Professor, carried the Religious Studies Program for many years, doing double duty while the Administration’s attention was elsewhere. For eight years, I, a Lecturer, helped him carry it, doing double and then triple duty. We are both still here. Thank you for the acknowledgment.

  • Matt Arnold

    I have to agree with Jane Spring and Prof. Bauer. My first thought while reading this article was “this sounds like a job for Frank Flinn.”

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    Correction to my note above: that’s FFFFF. I left out one F, but Frank Flinn’s grade should be A!

    Professor Flinn handed me his “Varieties of the Religious ‘Right'” course in 2001, to be taught as my own class, and some of his syllabus material is now incorporated in my signature course, “Fundamentalisms East and West,” referenced above. He is very generous and supportive of his colleagues and students. “WashU treasure” he most certainly is.

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    I agree with Jane Spring about FFFF, Frank Flinn the Flamboyant Former Franciscan.

  • Jane Spring

    There would be no better addition to this center than Frank Flinn, a national expert in this field and a WashU treasure.

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    PPS to my note above: Please see also “Fundamentalisms East and West: From Conservative Protestants to the War on Terror (Leave Me Out of the Family Feud)”: http://www.facebook.com/notes/jerome-bauer/fundamentalisms-east-and-west-from-conservative-protestants-to-the-war-on-terror/194935459828

    This course is still available, on and off our campus, for modest tips, free to the unemployed…

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com/victory.htm Jerome Bauer

    PS to my note above: It is great that WashU has a generous donor to support star power scholarship on current events (the apparent focus of the new programs to be funded). We already have a current events, business, and national security related international studies program, even as our classical language programs (East and West) are neglected or quietly dismantled. If we forget our past, how can we chart our future?

    Who will make a generous donation to support disciplined and painstaking philological scholarship, with no flash and hype, and no political or military value? Classical studies are currently out of fashion, but they provide depth and breadth to all our other programs, and are too often taken for granted.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome “John Hancock” Bauer
    –AB, The University of Chicago, in Cultural Anthropology (official major), Civilizational Studies (unofficial major)
    –AM, The University of Chicago, Divisional Master’s Program in the Social Sciences, Ideology and Utopia (Individualized Study)
    –MA, UCSB, Religious Studies (South Asian and American Religion)
    –PhD, University of Pennsylvania, “with distinction,” from the Department Formerly Known as Oriental Studies

    “Washington University Needs More Ethnic, Asian American, Oriental/Philological, and Civilizational Studies”:
    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=134122419828

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com Jerome Bauer

    At least they have an open agenda:

    “Based on both his political and religious background, Danforth’s involvement in the establishment of the center comes as no surprise. The former senator is an ordained Episcopalian priest and in recent years has drawn headlines about his vocal opposition to what he deems as the Republican Party’s transformation into a group of conservative Christians.”

    —to move the Republican Party back to its secular center–,

    “In 2006 he authored a book titled, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together.”

    –in an inclusive and non-partisan way,

    I agree with this agenda, though I am not a Republican and I have no problem with conservative Christians in general, and often play devil’s advocate for so-called “fundamentalists” in the line of duty (because they are an unpopular religious minority around here).

    Better an open agenda than a hidden one.

  • J. Smith

    any chance I can get one of those spots?

  • http://twitter.com/nolastan Stan

    So they cut the center for ethics and human values and establish the center for religion and politics?

  • http://www.jeromebauer.com Jerome Bauer

    It’s about time! Why a “center”? Why not a “network”? Does everything around here have to be done from the top down?

  • WU 2010

    This university has a fever, and the only prescription is more Danforth.