April 7, 2017 (REVISED April 19, 2017) Kluge Center to Host Panel on Religious Belief in American History, May 4

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The John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress will host a panel discussion in May that will take a historical look at religious belief in America. 

From 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday, May 4, three noted historians—John Witte, Sarah Barringer Gordon and Peter Manseau—will participate in a panel discussion on “Religion in American History: Moments of Crisis and Opportunity.”  The program will be moderated by Kluge Center Director Ted Widmer.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in room 119 on the first floor of the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.  Tickets are not needed.

The panel discussion is part of the annual meeting of the Library’s Scholars Council, which is a body of distinguished scholars, appointed by the Librarian of Congress to advise on matters related to scholarship at the Library, with special attention to the Kluge Center.

During the panel on May 4, each of the three speakers will discuss a year of great significance for the course of American history: 1785 and the separation of Church and State in the Early Republic; 1860, on the eve of the Civil War; and 1947, the year the Supreme Court took its first major First Amendment Establishment Clause case and inaugurated the modern era of constitutional religious freedom. 

Witte, a member of the Scholars Council, is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of Law, McDonald Distinguished Professor and director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University.  He is a specialist in legal history, marriage law and religious liberty.  Witte’s writings have appeared in 12 languages, and he has lectured and convened conferences in North America, Western and Eastern Europe, Japan, Israel, Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa. With major funding from the Pew, Ford, Lilly, Luce and McDonald foundations, he has directed 12 major international research projects on democracy, human rights and religious liberty, and on marriage, family and children. Witte is a past holder of the Kluge Center’s Cary and Ann Maguire Chair in Ethics and American History.

Gordon, the Arlin M. Adams Professor of Constitutional Law and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania, is an expert on religion in American public life and the law of church and state, especially how religious liberty developed over the course of American history.  She is a frequent commentator in news media on the constitutional law of religion and debates about religious freedom.  Her current book project, “Freedom’s Holy Light: Disestablishment in America, 1776-1876,” is about the historical relationships among religion, politics and law.

Manseau is the Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.  He is the author of six books, including the memoir “Vows,” the novel “Songs for the Butcher’s Daughter,” the travelogue “Rag and Bone,” and the retelling of America’s diverse spiritual formation “One Nation, Under Gods.”  Manseau is the winner of the National Jewish Book Award, the American Library Association’s Sophie Brody Medal for Outstanding Achievement in Jewish Literature, the Ribalow Prize for Fiction and a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellowship.           

Widmer, director of the Kluge Center, is the author or editor of many works of American history, including “The New York Times Disunion: A History of the Civil War,” “Listening In: The Secret White House Tape Recordings of John F. Kennedy,” “Ark of the Liberties: America and the World” and “American Speeches, Martin Van Buren, and Young America: The Flowering of Democracy in New York City.”

The Library’s Scholars Council was formed in 2001.  It consists of 11 leading thinkers and has included winners of the Pulitzer Prize, the Holberg Prize, the Balzan Prize, the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Fulbright Fellowship and those listed among TIME Magazine’s most influential people.  For a list of current members, visit loc.gov/kluge/scholars.

Through a generous endowment from John W. Kluge, the Library of Congress established the Kluge Center in 2000 to bring together the world’s best thinkers to stimulate and energize one another, to distill wisdom from the Library’s rich resources and to interact with policymakers in Washington.  For more information, visit loc.gov/kluge/.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office.  Explore collections, reference services and other programs and plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.

NOTE: An accompanying workshop event on the Bible and its influence in public life previously announced for May 5 has been canceled.


PR 17-047
ISSN 0731-3527