College Introduces Institute for the Study of Secularism

Thanks to a major grant from the Posen Foundation of Lucerne, Switzerland, Trinity is now home to the newly established Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture. The mission of the institute is to increase understanding of the sources, nature, and contemporary significance of secular ideas and values. Serving both student and non-student constituencies, the institute will offer seminars and conferences and a curriculum development project, as well as an annual lecture series and a significant research program.

Along with the Leonard E. Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, the institute will operate under the administrative umbrella of the recently created Trinity Program on Public Values and will also be housed at 70 Vernon Street. Mark Silk, director of the Greenberg Center, is heading up the public values program. “Issues involving the clash of religious and secular values are now at the center of public debate in the United States and around the world,” explains Silk. “Working in tandem with the Greenberg Center, the institute will substantially enhance the College’s ability to address many of the critical questions of our time.”

Totaling $2.8 million over five years, the grant will cover all of the institute’s personnel and program-related expenses, while the College will provide office space and utilities such as telephone and computer services. It is hoped that, if successful, the life of the institute will be extended beyond the initial five-year period.

Interim Dean of Faculty Frank Kirkpatrick ’64 has created an advisory board, comprising faculty from a broad array of disciplines, for the new public values program. The College also will organize a national advisory board of prominent scholars with pertinent expertise to provide the institute with advice on policy questions and to help extend the curriculum development project to other colleges and universities.

  Barry Kosmin   Ariela Keysar

Barry Kosmin, a sociologist best known for his involvement with four major studies of religious identities in the U.S. and author of the critically acclaimed book One Nation Under God: Religion in Contemporary American Society, is the institute's director. Ariela Keysar, a demographer who worked closely with Kosmin on the religious-identity studies as well as a number of other projects, will serve as the associate director. Kosmin and Keysar, who collectively will offer at least one course on secularism each academic year, also have appointments as research professor and associate research professor, respectively, in the Public Policy and Law Program. During the start-up year, Andrew Walsh ’79, associate director of the Greenberg Center, will coordinate the institute’s curriculum development project and will also chair the search for a full-time coordinator to manage the project during years two through five.

“What we intend to do is bring light rather than heat to the topic,” says Kosmin. “Here at Trinity we’re particularly interested in students—both as researchers working with us and to learn what young people think about secularism and public values.”

Two panel discussions to launch the institute will take place in the Washington Room during the afternoon of Wednesday, November 2, 2005. The schedule and participants are as follows:

1:30-3:00 Panel I: “Secularism in American Public Life”

Christopher Hitchens, columnist, Vanity Fair
Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
Peter Steinfels, religion columnist, New York Times

4:00-5:30 Panel II: “Secularism in the Academy”

Eileen Barker, London School of Economics
David Hollinger, University of California, Berkeley
Michael Ruse, Florida State University

 

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