Friday, October 10, 2008

EVENT, NOV 22: One Nation Under God? The Role of Religion in American Public Life


Annual Symposium at Boston College

12:30 - 5pm, November 22, 2008
Boston College, Robsham Theater

register | directions

Our 2008 symposium brings a stellar group of scholars, journalists, and practitioners together to explore the historic and continuing influence of religion and religious belief on civic life in the United States.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the brilliant early nineteenth century French chronicler of democracy in America, recognized the distinctive role that religion plays in shaping American culture. “This civilization is the result . . . of two quite distinct ingredients, which anywhere else have often ended in war but which Americans have succeeded somehow to meld together in wondrous harmony; namely the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.”

Almost two centuries after de Tocqueville penned these words, the “spirit of religion” remains a powerful force in shaping the views and values of the American people. Evidence of this can be found in the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey recently published by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life. The study of 35,000 respondents found that more than half of Americans say religion is very important in their lives, attend religious services regularly, and pray daily. Furthermore, a plurality of adults who are affiliated with a religion want their faith to preserve its traditional beliefs and practices rather than adjust to new circumstances by adopting new beliefs and practices.

But other evidence—the culture wars that have been a feature of elections for president and school board members for decades; the clamor of talk radio and cable television —would indicate that the “wondrous harmony” Tocqueville spoke of may no longer hold; that changing demographics and shifting cultural values are today a challenge to both the oneness of the nation in religious terms and the continued beneficial mutuality of the relationship between religion and American national identity. We may no longer be “one nation under God,” as the civic creed was once proclaimed each morning in every American schoolroom.

Session 1: How Religion Shapes American Culture
Mark Lilla, Professor of Humanities and Religion at Columbia University.
Jon Meacham, Editor of Newsweek
Peter J. Paris, Elmer G. Homrighausen Professor of Christian Social Ethics, Princeton Theological Seminar
Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, Co-Director, Fordham University Center on Religion and Culture
Alan Wolfe, Professor of Political Science and Director of Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College (Moderator)
Session 2: Religion and Electoral Politics
Bishop Harry Jackson, Jr., Senior Pastor of Hope Christian Church and regional Bishop in the Fellowship of International Churches
Amy Sullivan, national correspondent, Time Magazine
Steven Waldman, Co-Founder, CEO, Editor-in-Chief of
Hanna Rosin, national correspondent, The Atlantic Magazine (Moderator)
Session 3: Religion, Morality, and the Law
Stephen Carter, William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law at Yale Law School
Daniel C. Dennett, University Professor and Austin B. Fletcher Professor of Philosophy and Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University.
Susannah Heschel, Eli Black Professor, Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College
Jean Bethke Elshtain, Political Philosopher, University of Chicago
Michael J. Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government, Harvard University (Moderator)

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