Trinity Hosts Secularism Forum

On November 2, the Trinity campus community and many welcomed guests gathered in the Washington Room for the inaugural event of the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture (ISSSC). With a half-dozen of the world’s most prominent contemporary voices on secularism and religion as participants, the overflow crowd witnessed and engaged in a lively debate that examined the controversial line of separation between church and state and the contested relationship between public culture and religion.

After opening remarks from Barry Kosmin, the institute’s director, the afternoon kicked off with the first session, “Secularism and American Public Life.”  Mark Silk, director of the Trinity Program on Public Values (comprising both the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion and Public Life and the ISSSC), acted as moderator for panelists Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair; Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism; and Peter Steinfels, religion columnist for the New York Times. “The event was an all-around success,” says Silk. “The turnout among students was terrific, the discussions were lively, and the insights were fascinating.”

The second panel, “Secularism in the Academy,” was moderated by President Jones and included three distinguished scholars: Eileen Barker, professor of sociology, emeritus, London School of Economics; Michael Ruse, professor of philosophy, Florida State University and the author of many books on evolution and religion; and David Hollinger, professor of history and department chair, University of California, Berkeley.  The panelists, all of whom work on issues relating to secularism, discussed the role and future of secularism in higher education.    

The ISSSC, which aims to advance understanding of the role of secular values and the process of secularization in contemporary society and culture, was made possible by the generous support of the Posen Foundation of Lucerne, Switzerland. The institute will serve as a forum for civic education and debate through lectures, seminars, and conferences as part of the College’s new Program on Public Values, an initiative designed to foster a comprehensive understanding of some of the central issues and ideas of the contemporary world.

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Contributed by Carlin Carr


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