About the Project

In a time of tension, it is more important than ever to unite this country … so that all of our people will be one.

President John F. Kennedy
Speaking at Vanderbilt University in 1963

Speaking at Vanderbilt University during another tumultuous political era, President John F. Kennedy observed, “In a time of tension, it is more important than ever to unite this country … so that all of our people will be one.” Important words then—and now.

US Capitol Building


Today, the nation faces another fraught moment as American democracy struggles amid deep polarization. Partisan warfare has supplanted evidence-based problem-solving in our public life, and the engines of perpetual conflict are overwhelming the classic work of politics: the mediation of differences.

Lincoln Memorial


Disagreement is the oxygen of democracy. The crisis of our present time, however, is markedly different. Not since the Civil War have so many Americans held such radically different views—not just about politics but of reality itself.

The Vanderbilt Project on Unity and American Democracy aims to advance toward a more perfect union when the urgency of the political moment calls for action. Established with the core premise that the country has become disconnected from evidence and reason, the project seeks to supplant ideology with fact. It will re-introduce evidence, broadly defined, into the national conversation, pointing to solutions beyond reflexive ideological claims that will mix responses from the “left,” “right” and “center.”

Plaque


With its geographic location, enduring commitment to tackling society’s grand challenges, and its formidable intellectual talent, Vanderbilt is ideally suited to advance this critical national conversation.

The project will examine vital questions of our democracy’s efficacy, durability and capacity. This effort will yield a nonpartisan hub for leading scholars, key policymakers, activists, opinion leaders and others to develop evidence-based solutions that are not driven by ideological predispositions.

The project aims to inform thinking and reframe public discourse around the following initial themes. (We expect what we learn will inevitably lead us to revise these starting points.):

  • Polarization: Its Past, Present and Future
  • Hours of Hope: Case Studies in American Progress
  • Race in America: Toward a Nation of Equality
  • Under God: The Role of Religion in a Divided Time
  • To Keep the Republic: Strengthening Democratic Principles at Home and Abroad
  • Information Marketplace: Ensuring the Public has the Data
  • Cultural Bridges: Using Artistic Expression to Narrow the Divide