Feb. 19, 1998
Vol. 17, No. 10

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    New center for theology named for Marty

    Institute will build on retiring theologian's research of religon's role in public life

    By Jennifer Vanasco
    News Office

    The University has established a major new research institute for theology and religion and named it for retiring professor Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor in the Divinity School, who is widely considered the nation's leading interpreter of religion.

    The Martin E. Marty Center, which will receive $1 million over five years from the Lily Endowment Inc., will study religion's role in public life and culture and will focus on communicating research conducted at the Divinity School to the public.

    "Through the Marty Center we intend to educate scholars who understand the rich diversity of the world's religious traditions and who can effectively communicate that understanding to citizens, religious leaders and professionals in other fields," said Clark Gilpin, Professor and Dean of the Divinity School.

    "Martin Marty is an historian whose scholarship illuminates issues of broad human importance, concerns itself with the religious health of civil society, and is free from jargon and accessible to the wider public. It is this kind of scholarship that the Marty Center is designed to foster," Gilpin said.

    The Marty Center's creation was announced Feb. 5 at an evening ceremony -- and 70th birthday party -- in Marty's honor. The ceremony at the Chicago Historical Society was hosted by journalist Bill Moyers and television producer Norman Lear and attended by more than 500 guests, including such prominent people as former Sen. Paul Simon and Cardinal Francis George.

    Marty Center research will range widely across religion's relationships to politics, science and the arts. The center will address broad themes of perennial human significance, such as the problem of human suffering, as well as more immediate issues on the American civic agenda, such as religion's role in politics and health care.

    When designing new research projects, scholars at the Marty Center will actively consult with religious, civic and professional groups in order to bring opinion makers into direct contact with scholars on the leading edge of research in religion.

    At the same time, the Marty Center will use these publicly engaged research projects to enhance the teaching skills and professional self-understanding of students preparing to become ministers or professors in universities, colleges or theological seminaries.

    By also involving graduate students in their research projects, Marty Center scholars will challenge them at the beginning of their careers to think of themselves as public intellectuals, engaged in research that will explain to the public the role that religion plays -- for good and sometimes for ill -- in world cultures, Gilpin said.

    One of the first Marty Center projects will be a conference on "Black Theology as Public Discourse," to be held April 2 through April 5. The conference coincides with the 30th anniversary of the landmark publication of James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power and will include such speakers as David Tracy, the Andrew Thomas Greeley and Grace McNichols Greeley Distinguished Service Professor, Cornel West of Harvard and Stephen Carter of Yale, as well as James Cone himself. For a conference brochure, call Marsha Peeler at 702-7049.

    For more information about the Divinity School, see www2.uchicago.edu/divinity/.