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September 24, 2001

CISR launches study on religion, family

By Elaine Justice


Emory’s Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion (CISR) is embarking on a two-year project on “Sex, Marriage and Family Life” that is bringing together scholars from across the University to examine issues ranging from interfaith marriage to American divorce laws, from same-sex unions to the roots of monogamy.

Joining CISR Director John Witte to lead the project is Don Browning, Campbell Professor of Ethics and the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Browning, who has been named the Woodruff Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Religious Studies, is heading a team of 14 Emory and two visiting scholars focusing on marriage, sex and family issues as they relate to “religions of the book,” namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The project’s first phase this fall features an intensive seminar among the scholars, or fellows—who represent a variety of academic disciplines and expertise—as they examine not only conventional issues of marriage and divorce, child custody, sexual identity and intergenerational relations, but also controversial topics such as abortion, euthanasia, natural bases of sexuality, cloning, kinship and more.

Out of these discussions will come a series of public forums, new papers and books, public lectures, workshops and individual research projects throughout 2002. The final phase will be an international conference in spring 2003, featuring research projects of the participants, along with three dozen additional speakers.

Browning, who most recently headed a decade-long project at Chicago on religion, culture and family, sees the Emory effort as breaking new ground in understanding how religion impacts family life.

“There’s not a lot of debate on these issues in which religion or theology is well-represented,” he said. “I feel there’s a strong relationship between what happens to families and what happens to religion. If families go down, then religion will, too.”

Witte, also director of Emory’s well-known Law and Religion Program, said some 300 faculty across campus have a stated scholarly interest in religion, and only a third of that number are religion or theology faculty.

“There is widespread recognition here that religion is a central feature of life and that it suffuses all of society,” Witte said. “There are three things for which people will die: their faith, their family and their freedom. This ... project studies all three.”

Browning—the author, co-author or editor of several publications growing out of the Chicago project, including From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate—will collaborate with Witte on an even broader look at religion and family. The two plan to compile a set of primary sources on family issues that goes beyond Christian-ity, Judaism and Islam to include Hinduism, Buddhism and other non-Western traditions represented in the United States.

They will then edit a companion volume of interpretive essays contributed by project fellows and others.

Other collaborative research projects during the two-year cycle include:
• a study of circumstances that lead to unhappy pregnancies, led by Carol Hogue, Terry Professor of Maternal and Child Health and professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health.
• a three-city case study of religious intermarriage led by Abdullahi An-Na’im, Candler Professor of Law, fellow of the Law and Religion Program and director of a new Islam and Human Rights Program.
• a book on how same-sex unions challenge both Christian theologies and gay mythologies, led by Mark Jordan, Candler Professor of Religion.
• a study of how the terms “dignity” and “sanctity” are used in a biomedical context, led by Timothy Jackson, associate professor of Christian ethics in the School of Theology.
• a study of Hindu marriage in Indian and American communities, led by Paul Courtright, professor of religion.

Also anticipated are projects dealing with marriage and divorce law, and a project on extended families in African American and new immigrant communities.


Back to Emory Report September 24, 2001