Many would argue religion never has been more central or more polarizing in U.S. politics. Yet today, complicated and divisive religious and political ideals regularly are discussed via TV sound bites and debated in Twitter feeds or anonymously in news comment sections.
To help provide informed context around the religious and political issues that clash, converge and shape everyday public life, a new national online journal went live May 1.
Fit for polite company
The journal, Religion and Politics, is an important component of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, an entity that supports excellent scholarly research and teaching while also promoting the public understanding of religion and politics.
The journal’s tagline: “Fit for polite company.”
That politeness comes from a polypartisan editorial approach honoring frank and respectful debate from a range of views rather than a specific perspective.
“As we have grown and expanded into a multiethnic and culturally diverse nation, our religious differences have multiplied and our political divisions have deepened,” says R. Marie Griffith, PhD, editor of the journal, director of the center and the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in the Humanities at WUSTL.
“Our journal was founded to explore these issues from a broad range of diverging viewpoints, rather than a single grinding axe.
“Religion is neither inherently virtuous nor innately evil; rather, imperfect people interpret their own religious (or secular) beliefs, with outcomes that may be virtuous or evil, by anyone’s definition,” Griffith says.
“There is no simple, universally agreed-upon definition of any single religion, or even of the concept ‘religion’ itself. Ours, we know, is something of a moving target.”
Prominent scholars and journalists nationally are weighing in and open submissions are welcome. Criteria for publication are original arguments, copy that makes issues come alive and solid research and reporting.
The debut issue includes such pieces as:
- On Being’s Krista Tippett uncovering Oklahoma’s socialist history;
- New York Times columnist Mark Oppenheimer watching hours of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart;
- Harvard University theologian Harvey Cox remembering his Pennsylvania roots;
- University of Toronto scholar and journalist Molly Worthen talking about why American evangelicals love the British; and
- former Time contributing editor Amy Sullivan wishing people would stop asking politicians the wrong religion questions.
“There is a real dearth of long-form pieces on these topics,” says the journal’s Managing Editor Tiffany Stanley. “Most objective news outlets covering religion and politics do it in quick hits, short articles or blog posts. Others tackle it from a partisan viewpoint.
“We want to harness the wealth of intellectual knowledge that’s out there and bring established leaders, people who have been studying these topics for many years, who can provide the long view, historical context and critical analysis.”
Stanley, who previously worked for The New Republic, Religion News Service and Harvard magazine, says part of the journal’s mission is to reach U.S. thought leaders. Associate Editor Max Perry Mueller is a scholar of American religious history with interest in Mormonism and presidential elections.
Key publication features include rotating magazine-style articles; a “RAP Sheet” highlighting daily links on religion and politics from around the web; and two special sections —“The Table” and “The States of the Union Project.”
“The Table” is a forum for commentators to debate the issues of the day. Here, editors will pose topical questions, such as: “Who should take care of the poor? Is it the responsibility of religious organizations or government?” The majority of partisan material will be confined to this section.
“The States of the Union Project,” as part of 2012 election coverage, gives voice to writers around the country talking about where they discovered religion and politics in their states. These stories reveal people, places and histories of the American experience.
National editorial advisory board
The journal’s national editorial advisory board members are:
- Asad Ahmed, Washington University in St. Louis;
- Marla F. Frederick, Harvard University;
- Ari L. Goldman, Columbia University;
- Kevin Eckstrom, Religion News Service;
- Gaston Espinosa, Claremont McKenna College;
- Melissa Harris-Perry, Tulane University;
- Paul Harvey, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs;
- M. Cathleen Kaveny, University of Notre Dame;
- T. J. Jackson Lears, Rutgers University;
- R. Gustav Niebuhr, Syracuse University;
- Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame;
- Robert A. Orsi, Northwestern University;
- Leigh Eric Schmidt, Washington University in St. Louis;
- Mark Silk, Trinity College;
- Jonathan L. Walton, Harvard Divinity School;
- Diane Winston, University of Southern California;
- Michael Sean Winters, National Catholic Reporter; and
- Robert Wuthnow, Princeton University.
Washington University established the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics in 2010. The center is named for former U.S. senator from Missouri John C. Danforth, an ordained Episcopal priest who served three terms in the U.S. Senate and also was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
For more information about the center, visit rap.wustl.edu.