Taboo Dinner Party Talk

Amy Levin: “Aren’t these topics the very ones your mother warned you never to raise at a dinner party?” asks Marie Griffith, editor of the new online magazine, Religion & Politics. With its boasted tagline, “Fit for Polite Company,” Griffith, the current director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion & Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, says in her editor’s note that the journal’s aim is to address one of the most “contested issues of our time:” the role religion plays in U.S civic and political life.

Launched just last week, Religion & Politics is the most recent creation of the John C. Danforth Center, which opened in the fall of 2010. The center is funded by the Danforth Foundation, named after John C. Danforth, the former United States Senator from Missouri, ordained Episcopal priest, and author of Faith and Politics: How the ‘Moral Values’ Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together. The center features lectures, conferences, academic courses, and symposia all dedicated to the meeting of religion and politics. So far the center’s reach is somewhat local, though given the online medium through which the new magazine operates, we can only imagine how much further its conversations will travel.

We at The Revealer are particularly interested in publications dedicated to knowledge production that bridge the spheres of academia and news reporting. A nuanced understanding and committed curiosity to the way religion operates at social and political levels is one of the key goals of our journalistic project. Hence, we look forward to more of the already provocative and prolific pieces on the journal’s website. Perusing through some of the sub-headings, including bioethics, civil liberties, foreign policy, science, and sexuality and gender, one finds a diversity of controversial and salient topics ranging from Jon Stewart’s religious teachings to a roundtable-like discussion about the fairness of pundits’ obsession over presidential candidates’ religion.

On his Post-Dispatch blog, “Keep the Faith,” Tim Townsend spreads the good news of the publication where he interviews Griffith, among other contributors. Townsend notes that the center chose board members for the publication’s advisory board who are academics comfortable with the media, “either because their bylines appear there, or because reporters frequently hunt them down for quotes.” Such academics include Princeton Professor Robert Wuthnow, Mark Noll of Notre Dame, and Melissa Harris-Perry of Tulane University, known for her political news show on MSNBC. Townsend also gleans from contributors, like former editor of Time magazine, Amy Sullivan, that the birth the journal came at a crucial time in U.S. politics.

Indeed, the balanced perspective and tone of the magazine is what Griffith hopes will make it fruitful in our current political and cultural climate. As she poignantly notes in her editor’s note,

There is, or ought to be, a vast difference in our politics between stating one’s personal affiliation and manipulating religion into a blunt political tool. There is also a great difference between rapid-fire punditry and slower, deeper reflection on the long and complicated relationship between religion and US politics. The latter is the task we have set for ourselves. We look forward to hearing what you think.

We throw our yarmulkes off to you, Religion & Politics!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *