Welcome to Religion & Politics

By Marie Griffith | May 1, 2012

We’re delighted to welcome you to this site! Religion & Politics is an online journal that focuses on one of the most contested issues of our time: the role religion plays in the civic and political life of the United States. This journal is an important component of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and 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. It’s more than symbolic that we are located close to the nation’s geographic center.

Religion, of course, has always been entwined in American politics. From the earliest settlers’ attempts to forge a law-abiding community, which frequently meant expunging dissenters, we have struggled to forge a united public out of a fiercely independent-minded populace; and invocations of a divine purpose have often—some would say too often—served as the glue binding us together. As we have grown and expanded into a multiethnic and culturally diverse nation, our religious differences have multiplied and our political divisions have deepened.

Our journal was founded to explore these issues from a broad range of diverging viewpoints, rather than a single grinding axe. That is a tall order, and one we do not take lightly; as Leigh Eric Schmidt stated recently in a lecture about the Danforth Center’s purpose, “However impolitic, we’ve made bedfellows of religion and politics.” Aren’t these topics the very ones your mother warned you never to raise at a dinner party? Well, as our tagline suggests, we’re here to make them fit for polite company.

While we do not promulgate a single political viewpoint, we do share some assumptions that are worth noting at the outset. As a general principle, we think it’s safe to say that religion can and does inspire both the very best and the very worst in human behavior, along with everything in-between. 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. 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. We can live with that.

I am very grateful to Tiffany Stanley, our managing editor, for the extraordinary time and labor she has put into making this journal come to fruition. Max Perry Mueller, our associate editor, has done an equally splendid job brainstorming, cajoling writers, and fine-tuning pieces into what you see here. All of us eagerly await your feedback for Religion & Politics.

There is, or ought to be, a vast difference in our politics between stating one’s personal affiliation and manipulating religion into a blunt political tool. There is also a great difference between rapid-fire punditry and slower, deeper reflection on the long and complicated relationship between religion and US politics. The latter is the task we have set for ourselves. We look forward to hearing what you think.

© 2011 Religion & Politics