Emory Report
November 15, 2004
Volume 57, Number 12


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November 15, 2004
CISR and Law and Religion programs to unite

BY Eric Rangus

The Law and Religion Program will merge with the Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion (CISR) next fall, the programs announced late last month.

The new entity will be called the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, to be directed by John Witte and co-directed by Frank Alexander.

“The two have always been symbiotic partners,” said Witte, Jonas Robitscher Professor of Law and Ethics and director of both the CISR and Law and Religion Program. “The CISR always has been administered by the Law and Religion Program, and it’s become clear that it will be more effective and efficient to integrate their personnel and projects.”

The Law and Religion Program is the older of the two, having been founded in 1982 by Alexander and then-President Jim Laney, a renowned theologian.

“We created the Law and Religion Program to provide opportunities to pursue interdisciplinary work, to understand the common foundations of law and religion, and to envision professional vocations of service grounded in both law and in faith commitments,” said Alexander, professor of law and the program’s co-director.

The program grew to encompass more than a dozen domestic and international research projects, several major international conferences and public forum sponsorships, four book series and a visiting fellows program. Students from four Emory schools can take program-sponsored courses (the program offers 14 cross-listed courses), and 57 Emory faculty from 20 fields of study participate in the program’s work. The schools of law and theology, the graduate school, Emory College and the provost’s office provide funding.

The CISR, a University-wide program headquartered in the School of Law, was founded in July 2000 with a $3.2 million grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts. The grant provided five years of seed money to establish a center of interdisciplinary religious scholarship. Emory was the fourth university to receive such funding (there are now 10 such centers), and the center was designed to provide intellectual space and programming for faculty and students.

CISR has attracted leading scholars to serve as project directors, including renowned church historian Martin Marty, and Don Browning, Campbell Professor Emeritus from the University of Chicago.

Over the last four years, the CISR and Law and Religion programs have collaborated on several research projects and forums and have shared faculty, staff, students and—in the case of Witte—a director. “We have been working with overlapping staff; the natural next step, after the expiration of the seed grant, is to consolidate our efforts,” said Witte, the only director CISR has known.

All ongoing projects from both CISR and the Law and Religion Program will continue, and new ones continue to be launched. The most recent is on Christian jurisprudence in the 21st century, supported by the Alonzo L. McDonald Family Foundation (McDonald is a former member of the Board of Trustees). In addition the new center will add a public policy component focusing on religious liberty, marriage and family, and international human rights.

Included among the new, merged center’s teaching, research and public education offerings will be four joint-degree programs encompassing the law, theology and graduate schools; research projects in Christian, Jewish and Islamic legal studies; religion and human rights; and a host of other activities. The CISR’s two major research projects on “Sex, Marriage and Family & the Religions of the Book” and “The Child in Law, Religion and Society” will continue unaffected.

Although more than two years away, the Pew grant that helped establish the CISR will expire on Dec. 31, 2006, and planning already has begun to ensure funding support through a permanent University endowment. Establishing that endowment was a condition of Emory’s receiving the Pew Center’s startup funds.

Witte said he would leave the pronouncement of whether the CISR was a success to someone else, but statistics tell a rather dramatic story. The center was originally tasked to produce four books and two projects. To date, 19 projects and 59 books have come out of CISR.

The official merger of the two will take place Sept. 1, 2005, although administrative consolidation already has begun. The merged center will be located in the School of Law’s Gambrell Hall, and setup for the office space will continue through next summer.