March 3, 2003

CISR conference to examine marriage, family

By Michael Terrazas

Pressures facing the modern family have been the focus of a two-year investigation conducted through the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion (CISR), and the topic likewise will be centerstage for CISR’s upcoming conference, “Sex, Marriage and the Family and the Religions of the Book: Enduring Solutions to Modern Problems,” to be held March 27–29 at the Emory Conference Center.

The event will bring together 80 distinguished experts from across the country and the world to examine marriage and family life over the past 25 years from a variety of cultural, political and theological perspectives. Lectures and panel discussions over the three-day conference will touch on subjects from “Where’s Dad? Fatherhood in African American Families” to “Abolish Marriage? Comparative Insights.”

“The conference aims to document, analyze and respond critically, constructively and candidly to the extraordinary transformation of American marriage and family life in the past quarter century,” said John Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and CISR director. “It aims to expose some of the patriarchy, paternalism and plain prudishness that religious groups, in particular, have produced and perpetuated in their discussions of sex, marriage and family.”

Capping the conference will be a Saturday night, March 29, panel featuring renowned church historian and author Martin Marty, who will be in residence next year as Woodruff Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies. Speaking on “Sex, Marriage and Family: The Challenges of the New Century,” Marty will be joined by a familiar face: former provost Rebecca Chopp, now president of Colgate University, will copresent. Moderating the discussion will be Witte and President Bill Chace.

Currently the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago, Marty will lead the CISR’s next two-year project on children when he comes to campus in the fall. The project will investigate from a religious perspective such issues as conception, contraception and closing; moral, emotional and spiritual formation; child abuse, poverty and illegitimacy, and more.

But before that, Marty’s and Chopp’s panel will serve as a keynote presentation for the March conference.

“While provost at Emory, Dr. Chopp helped to create [the CISR]; I still quietly but affectionately call it ‘The Chopp Shop,” Witte said. “Marty has been a mentor to me from afar for many years, and he has been critical in helping shape our forthcoming project on children. For me it is not only a personal privilege to have them appear, but an appropriate way to signal and celebrate their leadership in our center.”

Also delivering a Thursday night, March 27, keynote address will be Robert Bellah, Elliott Professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of California-Berkeley. In a panel chaired by interim Provost Woody Hunter, Bellah will be joined by Emory’s Frans de Waal, Charles Howard Candler Professor of Primate Behavior, as they discuss “The Teachings of Nature, Religion and Tradition.”

Three special events will be held in conjunction with the CISR conference. On March 25 and 26, the Interdisciplinary Program in Classical Studies will cosponsor “Troubled Birth: Tragic Stages of the Greek Family” at 8 p.m. in Tull Auditorim. The show, an adaptation of scenes from Greek tragedies, is directed by Rush Rehm, with original music by Michael Keck, and features Annie Abrams, Kay Kostopoulos and Kathleen Lurco-Lyon.

On March 28 from noon– 1 p.m., Jasper Gaunt, curator of Greek and Roman Art for the Carlos Museum, will lead a museum tour focusing on “Marriage, Family and Death in the Ancient World.” And ongoing in the Durham Reading Room of Pitts Library is an exhibit of books and period sketches, “Marriage, Celibacy and Gender in 16th Century Christianity,” designed by Eugene Bianchi, professor emeritus of religion.

The CISR conference is free for Emory faculty, staff and students. Preregistration is required and includes lunch; dinner is $20 per person. The registration deadline is Monday, March 24. For more information, call 404-712-8710 or visit






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