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U.Va. Receives More Than $2 Million To Launch Center Exploring Role Of Religion In Democracy

January 25, 2001 -- The Pew Charitable Trusts has awarded the University of Virginia $2.5 million for a recently announced center that will probe the relationship between religion and democracy.

The Pew funding will go toward the Center on Religion and Democracy, a non-partisan research center that will explore the relationship between religion and American democratic ideals, institutions and practices.

Last month U.Va. alumnus, Frank Levinson, and his wife, Wynnette Levinson, of Palo Alto, Calif., committed $20 million to U.Va. -- the amount to be split evenly between the new interdisciplinary center and the astronomy department. The $10 million for the center will be used in numerous ways, including operating and endowment funds to help start its research and outreach programs, an endowment fund to create a professorship and other positions, and long-term support for its programs and outreach initiatives.

The Pew grant, which will last nearly four years, was awarded in response to a comprehensive proposal submitted by principal investigator James Davison Hunter, the William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Sociology and Religious Studies, and his co-investigator, Joseph E. Davis, a research assistant professor of sociology.

"The center will bring together some of the University’s best scholars with other leaders in the field to study and debate the role of religion and the values promoted by religion in the American political process," said U.Va. President John T. Casteen III.

In explaining the goals for the center, Hunter noted that although democracy has survived for more than 200 years in America, it is faced with numerous, potentially fragmenting challenges in the 21st century. Among those he cited are dissatisfaction with the election process, tax system and public education as well as enduring controversies over such topics as abortion, race, gun control and criminal justice.

"What democracy requires, politics alone cannot provide," Hunter said. "Perhaps the central crisis of American democracy is that the moral values and ideals that historically have been the foundation of democratic experience are eroding."

The center will explore the complex and dynamic role religion plays in contributing to those values and ideals. Its researchers will probe the role of religion in forming strong democratic institutions and practices and publicize their findings in the hope of gaining an understanding of how religion can revitalize democracy.

"A center that will explore the relationship between religion and democracy will help us understand the reciprocal roles they play in civil society," said Melvyn P. Leffler, dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

The Levinson gift and the Pew grant give the center a strong start in building its research agenda and planning its outreach efforts, Leffler said. Acknowledging the value of a center that examines how to sustain and revitalize democracy, the University has established a goal of $10 million in endowment for the center over 10 years.

The center’s research will be organized in themes and span two-year cycles. The first cycle, covering 2002-2004, will explore religion, pluralism and public discourse. The second cycle will examine religion and American public philosophy, and a third cycle will probe religion and moral and civic education.

Contact: Ida Lee Wootten, (804) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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