Sept. 11 , 2006
Web site to add new voice to
post-9/11 religious discourse
BY Kim Urquhart
Following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the motto “God Bless America” took on even more significance in popular culture. Five years later, religion—and religious expression—continues to exert influence in the public sphere.
“9/11 was a watershed moment for the world in bringing religion into the public arena,” said Gary Laderman, professor of American religious history and culture.
To continue to fuel that “post-9/11 conscience,” Laderman has teamed up with religion scholar Sheila Davaney of the Iliff School of Theology to create an opinion-editorial Web site centered on progressive values and current affairs in religion. Though still in the planning stages made possible by a $200,000 Ford Foundation grant, Laderman said the “ball is rolling.”
“Our goal is to widen and deepen the conversation about religion and public life in America and the world,” said Davaney, project director and Harvey H. Potthoff Professor of Christian Theology at Iliff. “We hope to stimulate change by bringing together a wide spectrum of alternative scholarly, civic and religious voices to address the most significant issues of the day via a Web-based venue.”
Tentatively called “The Religion Report: Research and Opinions on Religion in Today’s World”—a domain name is still being secured—the scholars envision the content to include op-ed pieces, position papers, discussion forums and a variety of media.
Speaking from Canada, where he is finishing his book, “Godless in America,” as a visiting fellow at the University of Victoria, Laderman emphasized that the site will not be based in one religious tradition. In an effort to show the “big picture, as it should be in a pluralistic society,” he said, “we are also trying to cut across the grain of the dominant Christian perspective on the issues of the day.” From sexuality to stem cells, the goal is “to include a much broader and wider range of views, and also to emphasize the very complex nature of Christianity itself.”
The Religion Report—to be launched next year—also will focus on outreach. Ideas include sponsoring conferences or creating town hall meetings across the country. “We see this in progressive terms, geared toward a kind of activism in terms of helping to participate in social justice and ensuring greater equality,” Laderman explained.
The concept for the Religion Report stemmed from what the scholars said was a lack of depth, nuance or diversity in public discourse on religious issues.
“The site will use the most up-to-date technology to allow progressive voices to share their opinions and provide information that is often absent from the public arena,” Davaney said.
The Religion Report’s intended audience includes scholars of religion as well as public policy makers and members of the media. In addition, Laderman said, “we want to work closely within faith communities who are tired of the way religion is framed in the public media and want to see more complicated, nuanced kinds of discussions about religion.”
The Web is an “ideal vehicle to disseminate information and analysis without the filter of other media,” he said.
Though Emory and Iliff are pioneering the project, the site won’t be based in one particular institution. Laderman envisions the “virtual think thank” to be “more free-floating, something we can coordinate across various locales and have ways to link up with similar enterprises.”