Letters Archive
Fall 1995, Vol. 4, No. 1
  • The Apocalypse Seminar: Fin de Siècle, Millenium, and Other Transitions
  • The Inaugural Harry C. Howard Jr. Lecture
  • Religion and Public Life: Seventy Years After the Scopes Trial
  • Religion and Public Life: Seventy Years After the Scopes Trial

    In the spring of 1925, John Thomas Scopes, a young high school teacher in Dayton, Tennessee, was indicted and tried for violating the Butler Act. William Jennings Bryan served as prosecutor; famed Chicago lawyer Clarence Darrow, acting on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union, was the attorney for the defense. In a case that attracted international attention, Scopes was convicted of violating the anti-evolution legislation.

    As a major research university in Tennessee, Vanderbilt was not immune to the repercussions of the Scopes trial. In the fall of 1925, Vanderbilt Chancellor James H. Kirkland reacted to the Scopes trial in his address marking the university's semicentennial:

    The answer to the episode at Dayton is the building of new laboratories on the Vanderbilt campus for the teaching of science. The remedy for a narrow sectarianism and a belligerent fundamentalism is the establishment on the campus of a School of Religion, illustrating in its methods and its organization the strength of a common faith and the glory of a universal worship.

    Others at Vanderbilt University reacted defensively to the critical publicity surrounding the state's anti-evolution legislation. The negative portrayal of southerners as backward thinking and bigoted, most notably by H. L. Mencken, for example, prompted Fugitive writers Alan Tate, John Crowe Ransom, and Donald Davidson to defend staunchly the "southern way of life." Their collective response to the anti-southern sentiment of the 1920s, which the Scopes trial had helped to foster, culminated with the Fugitive conference that resulted in the publication of I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition in 1930.

    In order to understand the changes that have taken place in the subsequent seventy years and the continuing interplay between religion, science, education, and public life, the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities is hosting a symposium on November 2-3, 1995, entitled "Religion and Public Life: Seventy Years after the Scopes Trial." The following is a schedule of the symposium and its events. For further information, contact the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. Support for the symposium is being provided by the Dean's Office of the College of Arts and Science, the Divinity School, the First Amendment Center, Project Dialogue, the Southern Studies Program, the University Chaplain's Office, and ACLU-TN.

    Inherit the Wind
    Wednesday, November 1
    7:00 p. m.

    John Egerton will introduce the film Inherit the Wind, which will be shown at Sarratt Cinema at 7:30 p.m.

    Session One. The Historical Context of the Scopes Trial
    Thursday, November 2,
    4:15 p.m.

    Panel members will present papers establishing the historical context of the Scopes trial and its implications for the relationship between religion and public life. The panelists include:

    • Ronald L. Numbers, William Coleman Professor of the History of Medicine and the History of Science, University of Wisconsin at Madison. Among many other publications, Professor Numbers is the author of The Creationists (A. A. Knopf, 1992) and the co-editor of God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter between Christianity and Science (University of North Carolina Press, 1986).

    • Charles Reagan Wilson, Professor of History, University of Mississippi and Co-director, Center for the Study of Southern Culture. Professor Wilson is the author of Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause, 1865-1920 (University of Georgia Press, 1980) and co-editor of The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (University of North Car olina Press, 1989).

    Session Two. Science and Religion: Cooperation, Compromise, and Conflict
    Friday, November 3
    9:30 a. m.

    The second panel will consider contemporary issues involving the interplay of science and religion. Panelists include:

    • Michael Lienesch, Bowman and Gordon Gray Professor of Political Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Professor Lienesch is the author of Redeeming America: Piety and Politics in the New Christian Right (University of North Carolina Press, 1993) and New Order of the Ages: Time, the Constitution, and the Making of Modern American Political Thought (Princeton University Press, 1989). He is currently working on a project entitled "Rethinking Scopes: The Politics of Progress."

    • William Provine, Charles A. Alexander Professor of Biological Sciences, Cornell University. Professor Provine is the author of Sewall Wright and Evolutionary Biology (University of Chicago Press, 198G) and co-editor of The Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology (Harvard University Press, 1980).

    • Kurt P. Wise, Associate Professor of Science and Director, Origihs Research and Resource Center, William Jennings Bryan College. Professor Wise completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University under the supervision of Stephen Jay Gould. His dissertation is entitled "The Estimation of True Taxonomic Durations from Fossil Occurence Data." His subsequent work in paleontology and geology has appeared in both academic and general public journals.

    Session Three. Trajectories: From 1995 to . . .
    Friday, November 3
    2:00 p. m.

    The panelists will respond to the ideas presented in the previous panels and will consider the future implications of current debates concerning science and religion and their broad implications for religion and public life. Panelists for the session are:

    • Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics, Uni versity of Chicago Divinity School. Professor Elshtain is the author of many books. She is most recently author of Democracy on Trial (Basic Books, Harper and Row, 1995) and editor of Politics and the Human Body: Assault on Dignity (Vanderbilt University Press, 1995).

    • Ira Glasser, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He is the author of Visions of Liberty: The Bill of Rights for All Americans (Arcade Publishing, 1991). Glasser's writings have appeared in several different publications, including The New Republic, The Nation, Harper's, and Christianity and Crisis.

    Session Four. Teacher Workshop on Religion and Public Life
    Saturday, November 4
    10:00 a.m.

    A workshop will be held with interdisciplinary teams of teachers. Teachers from Davidson County will apply to participate in this workshop and will attend all conference sessions. Chairing the Saturday workshop and small group discussions are:

    • Marcy Singer Gabella, Assistant Provost for Initiatives in Education, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning, Vanderbilt University. Professor Gabellas areas of special interest include curriculum design and development and school-universlty partnerships. She serves on the Advisory Committee of the Free dom Forum/First Amendment Center Project on Teaching about Religion in the Public Schools.

    • David Steiner, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Vanderbilt University. He is the author of Rethinking Democratic Education (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), a book concerning civic education. He is also an advising scholar to the National Standards in Civics Education Panel and has worked with a number of educational projects in the university and government contexts.

    • Hedy M. Weinberg, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee. Ms. Weinberg works closely with school administrators and students throughout the state on issues related to religious freedoms and the separation of church and state.

    Chapter 27, House Bill 185 (By Mr. Butler) Public Acts of Ten nessee for 1925

    AN ACT prohibiting the teaching of the Evolutionary Theory in all the universities, Normals and all other public schools of Tennessee, which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, and to provide penalties for the violations thereof.

    Section I. BE IT ENACTED BY THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE, That it shall be unlawful for any teacher in any of the Universities, Normals and all other public schools of the State which are supported in whole or in part by the public school funds of the State, to teach any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.

    Section 2. BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That any teacher found guilty of the violation of this Act, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and upon conviction, shall be fined not less than One Hundred ($100.00) Dollars nor more than Five Hundred ($500.00) Dollars for each offense.

    Section 3 BE IT FURTHER ENACTED, That this Act take effect from and after its passage, the public welfare requiring it.

    Passed March I3, I925
    (W. F. Barry), Speaker of the House of Representatives.
    (L. D. Hill), Speaker of the Senate.
    Approved March 21, 1925.
    (Austin Peay), Governor

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