April 29, 1999
Vol. 18 No. 15

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    [martin marty] by jason smith
    Martin Marty greets his friends and colleagues at a reception during the University of Chicago Press award ceremony held last Friday at the Quadrangle Club.

    Martin Marty accepts Laing Award from University Press

    By Amy Rust
    News Office

    Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in the Divinity School and one of the nation’s foremost scholars on church history, received the 1999 Gordon J. Laing Award from the University Press Friday, April 23.

    The “most influential interpreter of religion” in the United States today, according to Time magazine, Marty received the award at a Quadrangle Club reception for the first three volumes of Modern American Religion, a soon-to-be four-volume chronicle of 20th-century American religion and faith.

    “There is nothing more fun and gratifying than being well-regarded as a scholar in your own house,” said Marty, who was awarded the prize by the Board of University Publications, an interdisciplinary body of faculty members from the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Biological and Physical Sciences divisions. “I have sat on the board in the past and know the careful deliberation that takes place between the editors and the board members. That is always a special feature of this prize.”

    Modern American Religion, currently composed of three volumes: The Irony of It All, 1893-1919; The Noise of Conflict, 1919-1941; and Under God Indivisible, 1941-1960, is the first scholarly examination of 20th-century American religious history. According to Marty, there are hundreds of works about the Puritans and the 18th-century Enlightenment, for example, but no comprehensive religious treatment of the 20th century.

    “I was trying to ask whether in the midst of this wildly pluralistic society there is any kind of story that helps us see the many groups together,” he said. “I’ve noticed some common strivings, and I wanted to be one of the first to try writing about them.”

    Richard Ostling writes in Time magazine, “The series will become a standard account of the nation’s variegated religious culture during the current century. The four volumes ... may rank as the much honored Marty’s most significant contribution to U.S. studies.” And Publishers Weekly adds, “When America needs some advice or commentary on the state of modern theology, the person it turns to is Martin Marty.”

    The Laing Award, which is conferred annually, is given to the faculty author, editor or translator of a book published during the preceding three years that adds the greatest distinction to the list of the University Press. It is named for Gordon J. Laing, who served as editor of the press for more than 30 years and established its reputation as the premier academic publisher in the United States. Past winners include such distinguished faculty members as Mircea Eliade; W.J.T. Mitchell, the Gaylord Donnelley Distinguished Service Professor in English Language & Literature and Art History; and Marshall Sahlins, the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Anthropology.

    Marty, who has received a National Book Award, a National Humanities Medal, the Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the University’s 1998 Alumni Medal, is currently the George B. Caldwell senior scholar-in-residence at the Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics and Director of the University’s Public Religion Project.

    Editor of the newsletter Context, he also has served as senior editor for The Christian Century and has written more than 40 books and 4,300 articles, essays, reviews and papers.

    An elected member of the American Philosophical Society, the American Antiquarian Association and the Society of American Historians, Marty will resume work on the fourth volume of Modern American Religion this fall. Noting that the American religious scene has changed considerably since the end of the Cold War, Marty said the final volume of his series will be much different than its predecessors––the people of whom he writes will still be living, and as this “is a much more chaotic period, it will require a different mode of writing, more essay, less narrative,” he added.

    The volume, which will chronicle the period from 1960 to the close of the 20th century, will be published by the University Press, which Marty said “has always been friendly to religious writing, probably more so than any other university press.”