In 1997, Newsweek magazine carried a major
story on “lost children” in America. These were children
born in poverty and in broken households; they were more likely
than not to drop out of school, out of step and then out of society
At the time, that number exceeded 15 million little souls. The number
would double in two decades, the story predicted, unless states
and churches, agencies and academies gave children a new priority.
The Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion at Emory
(CISR) is giving children a new priority in a major three-year study
on “Saving Our Children: The Role of State, Church and the
Arts.” This project, which began in August, will involve two
dozen senior faculty from across campus, including the School of
Law’s new Woodruff Professor, Martha Fineman, as well as law
professors Frank Alexander, Michael Broyde, Johan van der Vyver
and Karen Worthington. The project will be led by CISR Director
John Witte and Martin Marty, Woodruff Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary
“Saving Our Children” will involve an intense faculty
seminar and four or five public forums each year, and will culminate
in a major international conference in 2006 as well as a new series
The project builds, in part, on the momentum of CISR’s first
project on “Sex, Marriage and Family & the Religions of
the Book,” which aimed to summon the wisdom of Judaism, Christianity
and Islam for their enduring insights into hard questions surrounding
sex, marriage and family life. These questions addressed marital
formation, maintenance and dissolution; children’s care, control
and custody; sexual identity, performance and expression; intergenerational
rights, duties and expectations, and more. The project now is in
its research and writing phase, with 30 new volumes in press or
“Saving Our Children,” as the name implies, focuses
more specifically on children.
“Children were not absent from our first project,” Witte
said, “but they were often treated incidentally or instrumentally.
We were mostly concerned with children as the goals of marriage
and sex, the objects of contraception and abortion, the subjects
of affection or abuse, the models of innocence and piety, the gravamens
of separation or divorce, and more.”
The new project focuses on children as children—in their being
and becoming, in their birth and growth. It will study the rites
and rights attached to birthing and naming, baptism and circumcision,
education and discipline. It will study the steps and stages in
a child’s physical, emotional, sexual, moral and spiritual
formation, as well as the rituals and ordeals, and the rights and
responsibilities, attached to each.
Further, the project will examine the pathos of child abuse and
rape, child poverty and homelessness, juvenile delinquency and violence,
and illegitimacy and infanticide. Finally, the project will look
at the mystery of the child—that combination of innocence
and imagination, acuity and candor, empathy and healing, and sharing
and caring that uniquely become a child.
Like other CISR projects, “Saving Our Children” will
be interdisciplinary in methodology, drawing especially on the insights
and methods of law, theology and the humanities. It will be interreligious
in inspiration, looking at the teachings and practices of Christianity,
Judaism and the Enlightenment. And the project will be international
in orientation, placing the American discussion of the child in
an emerging global conversation.
As part of “Saving Our Children,” Marty will host the
Family Forum Series, a schedule of public lectures, headlined by
former President Jimmy Carter, running throughout 2003–04
and centering around the theme of children. Joining Carter in the
series will be Fineman, former CDC Director William Foege and Habitat
for Humanity Founder Millard Fuller. Scheduled lectures include:
Sept. 22: “Who Cares for the Children?”
Presented by Browning and Fineman. Noon–1:30 p.m.
Oct. 14: “What Happens to Children in Peril?”
Presented by Carter and Marty. 2–3:15 p.m.
Oct. 27: “Children: Will We Ever Get It Right?”
(Currie Lecture) Presented by Foege. Noon–1:30 p.m.; a reception
will precede the lecture, starting at 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 17: “Where Do the Children Live?”
(Decalogue Lecture) Presdented by Fuller and Marty. Time TBA.
All Family Forum Series lectures will be held in the law school’s
Tull Auditorium. For more information on the series or on “Saving
the Children,” call CISR at 404-712-8713.