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                Religion and Politics

Project Director | Project Overview | Faculty Research Group | Project Fellows | Graduate Research Fellow | Field Research in Tennessee | Graduate and Professional Students | Events| News

Project Directors

Douglas Knight, Drucilla Moore Buffington Professor of Hebrew Bible and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture

Paul Speer, Associate Professor of Human and Organizational Development

William Partridge, (emeritus) Professor of Human and Organizational Development and Professor of Anthropology

Project Overview

The Vanderbilt Project on Religion and Politics addressed the interaction between religion and politics, especially its form within local communities of the South. Our project eschewed the specialized research silos wherein religious and political behaviors are circumscribed into distinct arenas. Instead, we addressed their convergence in contemporary American communities. We posit an intercultural nexus wherein human communities' religious and political beliefs and practices are increasingly merging, where local values, beliefs, and aspirations derived from contrasting secular and sacred traditions are negotiated and harmonized. We ask how Americans are learning to construct and transmit to the next generation a coherent, cohesive world view that accommodates deep-seated contradictions among their religious and political commitments.

We sought to explore how local cultural and religious forces propel citizens toward certain political decisions and actions and, conversely, how local cultural and political forces induce certain religious belief and practice. We bridge the social sciences and humanities to conduct research along both theoretical and empirical lines. In addition to other topics pursued in this work, the Vanderbilt Project on Religion and Politics achieved special focus by examining current social issues as well as the problem of war.

Faculty Research Group

Faculty from across Vanderbilt University participated in the series of colloquia that began in Spring 2006 and continued through Fall 2009. At present the core faculty group (Project Fellows, below) is drawn from philosophy, ethics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, legal studies, religious studies, and education.

Project Fellows

Jimmy Byrd, Assistant Dean for the Graduate Department of Religion and Senior Lecturer in American Religious History
Tom Dillehay, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology and Department Chair
Paul Dokecki
, Professor of Psychology and Professor of Religious Studies
Volney P. Gay, Professor of Psychiatry, Professor of Anthropology and Professor of Religious Studies, and Director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Culture
James Hudnut-Beumler, Dean of the Divinity School and Anne Potter Wilson Distinguished Professor of American Religious History
Bettie Kirkland, Research Associate at the Race Relations Institute, Fisk University
James M. Lawson, Jr., Distinguished Visiting University Professor
Graham Reside, Executive Director of the Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership in the Professions and Assistant Professor of the Sociology of Religion
Edward L. Rubin, Dean of the Law School and John Wade- Kent Syverud Professor of Law
Susan Schoenbohm, Senior Lecturer of Philosophy and Program Coordinator of the Center for Ethics
Charles E. Scott, Director of the Center for Ethics and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy
Melissa Snarr, Assistant Professor of Ethics and Society

Graduate Research Fellow

Ellen Lerner, Graduate Department of Religion

Field Research in Tennessee

An essential and distinctive component of the Vanderbilt Project on Religion and Politics was the gathering of new empirical information about the intersections of religion and politics in lived communities. The state of Tennessee has been selected not only because of Vanderbilt's ready access to its nearby towns but especially because the state represents a crossroads of vital aspects of the United States - demographic, economic, political, and religious. Ethnographically trained students were placed in various communities where they lived for a minimum of three months each, taking the pulse of the townspeople on key issues and observing how religion and politics play out within the institutions and in the public and private lives of the citizens. We aimed to gain a longitudinal perspective by continuing this field research over a three-year period, from election years 2006 to 2008.

Graduate and Professional Courses

The Religion and Politics Project coordinated a series of seminars at the graduate and professional level. The seminar sequence drew on the Faculty Research Group and on the field research by students in Tennessee communities. The course sequence was iterative, moving back and forth between scholarly study and reflection on the one hand and analysis of the field-based research on the other. Courses included:

Faith, Politics, and War
James Hudnut-Beumler, Douglas Knight, William Partridge, and Edward Rubin
Offered Fall 2006
Catalog Description: The intersection between religion and politics, especially its form within local communities of the South, is the subject of this multidisciplinary seminar. The course bridges the social sciences and humanities to investigate how local cultural forces propel citizens toward religious and political decisions and actions, providing an empirical as well as theoretical foundation to the analysis. A number of topics will be pursued with primary focus on the problem of war. The seminar is preparatory to supervised field research in Tennessee communities in future semesters. The seminar is team taught by faculty from the School of Law, College of Arts and Science, Divinity School and Peabody College.

Religion, Politics, and Social Issues
Planned for Fall 2007

Religion, Politics, and International Issues
Planned for Fall 2008


University Seminar in Religion and Culture, Religion and Politics in Tennessee: A Report from the Field on Tuesday, October 30, 2007 from 4:00 - 5:30 pm in Divinity G27.

The Politics of Faith in America: On Tuesday, March 27, Ray Suarez gave the 2007 CSRC Spring Lecture on Religion and Culture and the 2007 Vanderbilt University Divinity School Howard L. Harrod lecture. Suarez has been a Senior Correspondent on The NewsHour since 1999. His latest book, The Holy Vote: The Politics of Faith in America was published in August 2006. The lecture was held at 7 p.m. in Benton Chapel. Link to podcast.

Congressman Jim Cooper visited with the Religion and Politics group on Feb. 22, 2007. Cooper urged better connections with the community. Register Article.

CSRC University Seminar, Thursday, September 21, 2006, featured A Report from the Field: Research Findings of the CSRC Religion and Politics Project's Summer Fieldworkers. Buttrick Hall 101, 4-6 p.m. This Seminar was funded in part by a gift from the family of Mafoi Bogitsh. Link to Podcast.


Religion and Politics Project Covered in Dyersburg Newspaper: "Vanderbilt Study Examines Relationship Between Politics, Religion"[June 2006] and "Jobs, Education, Crime, Illegal Immigration, Homosexuality Concern Locals: Vanderbilt Study" [August 2006]. Articles appear with permission from the Dyersburg State Gazette.

Researchers visit Tennessee communities for insight into politics and religion: Religion and Politics Summer Field workers discuss preliminary findings with a reporter from the Vanderbilt Register in the article. [September 2006].