New Center to Examine Religion's Role in Public Issues

(5-7-99) -- The role of religion in helping to formulate responses to the nation's most pressing public issues will be the focus of the new Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.

The center will be directed by Alan Wolfe, a renowned social scientist, author and teacher who is considered among the most prominent public intellectuals in the United States. When Wolfe arrives on campus July 1, he also will join the Political Science faculty as a full professor.

The Center for Religion and American Public Life, announced by Boston College President William P. Leahy, SJ, was funded by a private foundation. It is believed to be the first academic center in the United States created specifically to address the relationship between religion and public policy.

"I am delighted to be coming to Boston College, which has both a rich religious tradition and a reputation as one of three Catholic colleges at the top of everyone's list for academic excellence in the United States," said Wolfe, whose 12 books and frequent lectures have positioned him at the center of American intellectual discourse. "There is a great need for an academically rigorous place to examine and discuss the relationship between religion and the public life in America today. I see Boston College as the ideal place to hold this discussion."

Wolfe, who had previously served as university professor and professor of sociology and political science at Boston University, views the new center as a forum where prominent intellectuals and scholars will meet with students and faculty to discuss the nation's leading public issues.

"I see the center as being a place where historians might take the time to study the development of religious traditions and institutions unfamiliar to them, where law professors and moral philosophers would engage in the discussion of issues like euthanasia or cloning, where social scientists would evaluate the data on whether attendance at religious schools improves test performance among minority students, where theologians would try to understand the reception of theology in America today, where scholars in literature and the arts would consider such themes as redemption or the diabolic, and where scientists would discuss the moral implications of their discoveries," said Wolfe. "Issues of religion and morality have not been central to the social sciences. We will attempt to fill the void with serious discussion of these issues at Boston College."

In announcing the appointment, Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties David R. Burgess praised Wolfe as a brilliant scholar whose opinion and influence are respected in all circles. "Alan Wolfe's hiring is a coup for Boston College and an important sign of BC's commitment to leading the dialogue in our country in the area of religion and public life. We are delighted to have him."

College of Arts and Sciences Dean J. Robert Barth, SJ, added, "We are absolutely thrilled to have Alan Wolfe join us at Boston College. He has a keen interest in making sure that serious discussion of religious issues takes place in academe. He has chosen to come to BC because he knows that discussion will not be neglected here."

Prof. Marc Landy, chairman of the Political Science Department, offered similar praise. "In Alan Wolfe, Boston College gains a first-rate social scientist and a premier public intellectual," he said. "We look forward to his arrival and to the promise that it holds for us."

A 1963 graduate of Temple University who received a doctorate in political science from the University of Pennsylvania, Wolfe began his 33-year teaching career at Rutgers University in 1966. He also has taught at the University of California (both at Santa Cruz and Berkeley), Harvard University, the University of Copenhagen (Fulbright Professor), the University of Aarhus in Denmark, Columbia University and at City University of New York.

His most recent book, One Nation After All, received international acclaim for its study of middle class opinions on issues ranging from God and family to racism and homosexuality. He was co-winner of the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems for his 1989 book, Whose Keeper? He also was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his 1973 book, The Seamy Side of Democracy. Wolfe is working on his 13th book, Moral Freedom, which will be published in 2001.

Wolfe has received numerous awards and grants from institutions that include the National Endowment for the Humanities, The Lilly Endowment, The Templeton Foundation and The Russell Sage Foundation. He is listed in Who's Who in the World, Contemporary Authors, and the Directory of American Scholars. Wolfe is the husband of Jytte Klausen, a professor of political science at Brandeis University.

"I view my coming to Boston College as a great opportunity," said Wolfe. "Catholicism has always been a very intellectual religion and Jesuit and Catholic colleges and universities have kept alive the great traditions of literary and social science inquiry. I look forward to beginning my work at BC this year."

New England Cable News is expected to cover the center's establishment on its "News Night" program at 7 p.m. May 7.

Click here to read the Boston Globe's coverage of the announcement.

Click here to read the Boston Herald's coverage of the announcement.

Back to InfoEagle Home Page

Back to News and Information from Boston College