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Feb. 28, 2008

Columbia Opens Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life

Columbia University has launched a new institute to examine the changing role religion plays in the contemporary world, and to promote religious understanding and cultural tolerance.

Supported by a team of scholars drawn from across academic disciplines, the University’s new Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life incorporates a broad range of activities designed to shed light on the complexities surrounding religion in today’s multicultural society. The institute, which opened its doors this semester, will hold a formal launch ceremony in the fall.

“Perhaps no issue is of greater importance and concern to the contemporary world than that of religious and cultural tolerance,” said Nicholas B. Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences and Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History. “It has never been more important to study the nature of religious belief, identity and affiliation—and never more difficult to do so critically. The new institute is engaging not just new levels of interdisciplinary commitment to the urgent questions of our day, but also connecting scholarship and learning to the world of actual political, religious and cultural conflict and misunderstanding.”

Related Links

Press Release Announcing Launch of Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life

Q & A with Religion Professor Mark C. Taylor, Columbia News, Jan. 3, 2008

First Kraft Panel Debates Benefits and Hazards of Bringing Religion into Politics, Columbia News, March 21, 2006

“The world is experiencing a resurgence in religion, and with that comes religious and cultural intolerance,” added Mark C. Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Religion and co-director of the institute. “By taking an expansive rather than restricted view of religious thought and practice, the institute will recast the traditional opposition between the secular and religious in ways that promote innovative approaches to familiar problems.”

In an attempt to uncover the origins of global conflict, the institute will examine the historical and practical values within religious traditions, explore each religion’s attitude toward ecumenicalism, and investigate the social and cultural institutions that support coexistence among people of different faiths.

According to co-director Alfred C. Stepan, the Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government for the University’s School of International and Public Affairs, the institute has already launched programs addressing current sectarian problems in India, Sri Lanka, the Holy Land and the newly established nation of Kosovo.

This coming spring, the institute has scheduled an assortment of seminars, lectures and international conferences, and it will roll out internship and fellowship programs this summer. After its formal launch in the fall, the institute will begin forging partnerships with notable policymakers and religious and cultural leaders of the world.

This semester’s scheduled events will touch on a variety of themes including conflict resolution through sacred space, the relationship between the secular state and the religiously diverse populace, the potential amendment of Turkey’s secular constitution, the contributions of Sufism and art to Senegal’s democracy, and the relationship between secularism and women’s rights.

Operating under a 12-person advisory board, the institute will take on a cross-disciplinary approach, uniting scholars from fields including religion, cultural anthropology, history, political science, economics and social psychology.