Independent Minds, Working Together

Fall Academy of Religion to Explore Link between Politics and Religion

Six-week session begins Sept. 19 and continues through Oct. 24 at The College of Wooster

July 31, 2012 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — In the weeks leading up to the 2012 presidential election, the relationship between religion and politics will be discussed ad nauseam. The College of Wooster’s Fall Academy of Religion will attempt to provide a context for that discussion when it presents “Priests, Prophets, and Politicians: Religion and Politics” this fall. The six-week lecture series, which is free and open to the public, begins Sept. 19 and continues each Wednesday through Oct. 24. Sessions begin at 7:30 p.m. in Lean Lecture Room of Wishart Hall (303 E. University St.).

“The relationship between religion and politics is complex,” says Charles Kammer, the James F. Lincoln Professor of Religious Studies at Wooster and academic dean of the Fall Academy of Religion. “Both deal with realities that are deeply important to all persons, and both are charged and highly contested. Religion and politics both deal with values, prescribe guidelines for behavior, and present visions and programs for our shared social life.”

Throughout history religion and politics have been closely allied, and in many societies, the two have worked in concert with one another, but the Age of Enlightenment brought about change in the relationship. Holy wars and religious persecutions forced many modern leaders to rethink the influence of religion on politics and search for ways to lessen its impact.

In the United States, says Kammer, the founding fathers sought to develop a nation that was both a secular society based on the will of the majority and a highly religious nation where ultimately a sense of legitimacy is found in God. “Religion, then, has continued to exert a deep influence on politics in the United States,” adds Kammer, “(but) in the 1960s social theorists began to document the declining importance of religion…(a) process (that) was viewed as inevitable and irreversible.”

To the surprise of many, however, religion has remained remarkably influential, according to Kammer, and is, in fact, undergoing a resurgence in many parts of the world. “Much of the political conflict in the world today has a significant religious component,” he says. “In the United States, many of the most divisive issues (e.g. abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research, capital punishment, teaching evolution in schools, global climate change, etc.) are grounded in religious disagreement.”

As a result, attention is being focused on the impact of religion on politics. “Religious denominations exert influence through formal resolutions on policy issues,” says Kammer. “Religious lobbying organizations and social outreach programs also impact social and political values…religious influences are significant across the entire political and values spectrum.”

The series opens on Sept. 19 when Paul Djupe, associate professor of political science at Denison, presents “Impolite Company?: Religion and American Democracy.” He will be followed by Emily Welty, faculty lecturer in political science and peace and justice studies at Pace University, who will talk about “Religion and Nonviolent Social Change,” on Sept. 26.

Laura Olson, professor of political science at Clemson University, will speak next on Oct. 3 when she discusses “The Politics of ‘Spiritual but not Religious’ America,” while Bradley Bateman, provost and executive vice president as well as professor of economics at Denison, will address “Serving God and Mammon?: Economics and Christianity” on Oct. 10.

Jeremy Rapport, visiting assistant professor of religious studies at Wooster, will focus on Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Oct. 17 when he presents “Politics and Communities of Faith: African-American Christianity, Mormonism, and the 2012 Election.” Kammer will summarize the series and look to the future on Oct. 24 when he presents “Hope in Hard Times: Dreaming and Demanding a Better World.”

Additional information about the Fall Academy of Religion is available by phone (330-263-2473) or e-mail.