Danforth Center on Religion & Politics hosts open house

Two topics often avoided in “polite conversation” will be the buzz in the room as the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics celebrates the beginning of a new semester with an open house from 5-7 p.m. Monday, Sept. 24, in its new, recently renovated campus location: Umrath Hall, Room 118.

Free and open to the public, the celebration offers the community a chance to meet new faculty, to mingle with center staff and get an update on the center’s recent progress, including the hiring of high-profile faculty, plans for the fall speaker series and the ongoing success of the center’s online journal, Religion & Politics. Advance registration is requested by emailing rap@wustl.edu. For more information, visit the center’s website at rap.wustl.edu.

“We’re eager to welcome the many University and community members who participated in our programs last year, as well as to introduce new people to the Center’s offerings and, especially, our new faculty,” said center director R. Marie Griffith, PhD, the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences.

Among the center’s new hires are Mark D. Jordan, PhD, who joins WUSTL as a Distinguished University Professor in the Humanities; and Darren T. Dochuk, PhD, who comes on board as an associate professor of humanities, both in Arts & Sciences.

Jordan, a renowned philosopher, ethicist and theologian, formerly served as the Richard Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Divinity and Professor of Studies of Women, Gender and Sexuality at Harvard University. He taught previously at the University of Notre Dame, Rice University and Emory University.

Jordan’s recent research focuses on the modern period and Christianity in the United States, including questions about the interactions of political and religious rhetoric, the history of sex and gender in America, and the functions of ritual in creating unexpected identities. He teaches a range of courses in Christian ethics, natural law, theology and sexuality.

Dochuk joins the center from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., where he has taught courses in 20th-century U.S. political and cultural history since 2005.

His most recent book, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-folk Religion, Grassroots Politics and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2011, W.W. Norton), tracks the emergence of evangelical politics from the margins of the Depression-era “Bible Belt” South into the mainstream of California’s “Sunbelt” society. It has garnered a number of awards, including The Society of American Historians’ Allan Nevins Prize and the American Historical Association’s John H. Dunning book prize for outstanding historical writing on any subject in U.S. history.

The center is offering three courses covering issues of interest to the center’s mission, including one taught by Griffith on “Religion and American Society, 1890 to the Present” and two taught by Leigh E. Schmidt, PhD, the Edward Mallinckrodt University Professor of Humanities: “American Holidays, Rituals and Celebrations” and “American Religion, Politics and Culture: Historical Foundations.”

The open house takes place just days before the second installment of a nationally broadcast series of public discussions on divisive issues that the center is co-sponsoring with The Brookings Institution and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Created by American Public Media’s On Being radio program and moderated by On Being’s host Krista Tippett, the Civil Conversations Project (CCP) brings together leaders with opposing views who have managed to find common ground on some of the most contentious issues in American civic discourse.

The series, which includes discussions on “The Next Christians,” “Pro Life, Pro Choice, Pro Dialogue,” “Political Bridge People” and “The Future of Marriage,” features participants that CCP has identified as “bridge people” — leaders of various issues who have found ways to transcend the bitter divide that frequently makes productive debate on these topics seem impossible.

These discussions, which will be held at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., or at the Humphrey School in Minnesota, later will be broadcast in a special series of On Being shows.

Participants include Gabe Lyons, founder of “Q” and author of The Next Christians; Jim Daly, president, Focus on the Family; Frances Kissling, activist and former president, Catholics for Choice; David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics, Mercer University; Alice Rivlin, The Brookings Institution; Sen. Pete Domenici, Bipartisan Policy Center; Jonathan Rauch of The Atlantic, the National Journal and the Independent Gay Forum; and David Blankenhorn, Institute for American Values.

Griffith will help moderate the Sept. 26 CCP session on “Pro Life, Pro Choice, Pro Dialogue,” which will take place at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs in Minnesota. Other participants in that discussion include Kissling and Gushee. Video of the discussions will be streamed live online and made available for later viewing at the On Being website. For more information, visit onbeing.org/ccp.

The center also is sponsoring two on-campus lectures: “Redeeming the Soul of America? Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Promise of the Engaged Scholar” by Charles Marsh, a professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 9 in Umrath Hall; and a Dec. 4 keynote by noted Washington Post news columnist George Will at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 in Graham Chapel. Will’s talk is part of the university’s Assembly Series.

For more information, visit the center’s events web page at rap.wustl.edu/events/.