Volume 1, Number 1
Religion Center Established
Creighton University has announced the establishment of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society.
The announcement comes at a time when there is not only a much publicized public renewal of interest in religion, but also a revival of interest in the study of religion in the academic community. As a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests, the study of religion has returned from the "academic limbo" in which it has existed for decades. Scholars, whether they are believers or not, are joined, once again, in recognizing the centrality of the religious experience to the course of human events.
For years, academics have worked in an atmosphere in which to study religion has been seen as advocating it - an atmosphere in which, as Martin Marry has put it, many in the academic community have feared that someone might "try to smuggle God in the plain brown wrappers of religion." Society has been portrayed as becoming so secular in its orientation that religion has been excluded as a causal force, while what often has been seen as impossible to measure empirically - matters of faith, for example - has been discounted as unworthy of serious consideration.
The study of religion has been banished to the margins of academia, or, to what Marty calls "schools on the confines," from which it is only now being liberated. It is a liberation led not only by theologians, but also by those in fields such as philosophy and law, sociology and psychology, literature and history - those who are disinclined to reduce religion to an abstraction void of cultural and social significance. It is a liberation led not only by religious colleges and universities such as Georgetown, Boston College, and Notre Dame, but also by secular institutions like the Universities of Chicago, California at Santa Barbara, and Indiana.
What exactly has caused this revival of academic interest in the study of religion remains the subject of some debate. Some suggest it is part of a neoorthodox reaction to a perceived erosion of our religious tradition in a period of rampant liberalism, or to what has been referred to as the "rudderless relativists of today's American civil religion." Others argue that it is part of a revitalized liberal creed. As Hans H. Penner has suggested, much of the recent interest in religion has resulted from the criticism it was received, by those that believe that religion poses a problem for society rather than providing an answer. Those who feel that "religion has been surpassed as knowledge," he explains, nevertheless believe that "its function still needs to be explained." Still others have been motivated by pubic figures such as Alan Pifer and Robert Bellah, who have spoken of the "moral malaise" that seems to have American society in its grip, and of the need to reexamine both our values and our social and political institutions.
Whatever may have led to this revival of interest, Creighton University has now joined those colleges and universities that have taken up the challenge of explaining the role of religion in society. That Creighton has done so, in view of its Jesuit tradition and of the recognition its faculty has received for its work in the field, should come as no surprise to anyone. In the past few years, the University has created the Klutznick Chair in Jewish Civilization and the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy. Now, it adds the Center for the Study of Religion and Society.
The Center for the Study of Religion and Society is dedicated to encouraging scholarly activity in the form of research, publication, conferences, seminars, and lectures. At the same time, although the Center's primary audience is the academic community, its scholarship will be made available to all who seek to avail themselves of it, from whatever walk of life, whether from church or synagogue, whether employed in government, business, education, the media, or elsewhere.
Creighton University is a Catholic Jesuit institution of higher education, but, in order to encompass the diversity of interest in the field and to encourage the widest possible comparative perspective, the Center will not be limited to any particular faith, time, or place.
Instead, it will encourage the study of all religious groups and beliefs among the various people of the world, past and present. Built on the same premise upon which many other academic centers have been created - that the great questions of life do not fit neatly into single disciplines - the Center is cross-disciplinary, involving scholars from all academic disciplines by whom greater insights may be gained into the myriad of topics which relate to the study of religion and society.