Buffett Research Group Spotlight: Global Politics & Religion

January 4, 2016

In September, the Buffett Institute launched three interdisciplinary research groups after putting out a call for new, “big ideas” in global research. In just a few months, these groups have begun to put down roots at the Buffett Institute and expand their reach to the greater Northwestern community and beyond.

Buffett’s research groups were created with many possible outcomes in mind, including setting new research agendas and shaping the global research community surrounding specific and critical global issues. By creating and supporting collaborative, sustained, multidimensional research programs, the Institute sees the potential for such groups to become world-class academic programs and centers. In this issue, we’re pleased to share the recent activities and vision of one of those three groups. 

Looking at religion in a whole new way

Led by director Elizabeth Shakman Hurd (political science) and associate director Brannon Ingram (religious studies), the Global Politics and Religion (GPR) research group brings together innovative thinkers in search of new understandings of and creative responses to the challenges of socially and religiously diverse worlds. Their research vision is partially inspired by and expands upon Hurd’s recently completed research project, “The Politics of Religious Freedom,” which was jointly based at the Buffett Institute and the University of California-Berkeley, and funded by the Henry Luce Foundation.

Interest in the study of the intersection of religion, law, and politics has increased greatly over the past few years, but the field is still very underdeveloped. Current studies on the topic are often limited and compartmentalized in individual disciplines. GPR hopes to help create a brand new academic discipline and produce new forms of knowledge that will inform academic, public, and policy debates nationally and globally.

The group is unique among US research institutions that study religion and politics because it looks past the common public perceptions that religion is either the source of all morality and something to be celebrated, or a root cause of violence and global instability. They see religion as an essential aspect of human life, contributing to all domains of society and politics including the formation of gender, sexual, racial, national, and ethnic identities.

Collaboration among individuals that transcends disciplinary, geographical, national, and methodological boundaries will be an essential driver of the group’s growth and research over the next few years. GPR is hosting interdisciplinary reading seminars, lectures, and workshops to provide a space for faculty, students, and visiting scholars in fields such as political science, sociology, religious studies, history, law, and anthropology to share and develop their work in the context of a vibrant and supportive research community. The group has already established several new connections between Northwestern and national and foreign institutions in the US, Canada, and Europe.

Public Programming at Northwestern

GPR held its inaugural event in October, welcoming Rajeev Bhargava from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. His talk, “Living with religious diversity: a view from ancient India,” explored how ancient texts from the Indian emperor Ashoka Maurya could help provide an alternative to modern Western conceptions of religion, toleration, and politics. The group also has a graduate student workshop, which held its inaugural event on November 2. Current graduate student members hail from political science, religious studies, history, and anthropology.

The group will host two more public lectures this year: Anver Emon, a leading scholar of Islamic law, and Kabir Tambar, a sociocultural anthropologist who works at the intersections of political anthropology and the anthropology of religion will both speak at Northwestern in the 2016 spring quarter.

Studying the Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad

In November, GPR director Elizabeth Shakman Hurd and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan of Indiana University were awarded a $390,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation for a three-year collaborative research project (2016–2019) entitled “The Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad.” Sullivan, Hurd, and their collaborators will study the politics of religion from an “inside/outside” vantage point to better understand the symbiotic relation between US domestic and foreign policy, past and present, with regard to religion and religious governance. It will be based primarily at Northwestern and supported by the Luce Foundation’s Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs.

Working in tandem with and significantly enhancing the activities of Global Politics and Religion, the project will include a research program as well as educational and public outreach elements. In addition to graduate student career and research support, a new two-year postdoctoral fellowship will be launched to support a junior scholar working in this area of study. A sub grant to Indiana University will support faculty and student research connected to the project.

Learn more about the Global Politics and Religion research group and the Politics of Religion at Home and Abroad project.

Learn more about the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs.

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