The Funding of Religious Scholarship

01n/25/ARVE/G2168/017John Schmalzbauer‘s recent piece at Immanent Frame is a reminder that scholarship and scholarly organizations cannot function without money.  We need philanthropists, such as John D. Rockefeller Jr., to keep doing what we do.  Here is a taste of his excellent essay: “As rich as Rockefeller, Danforth, Lilly, Lice, Pew, and Templeton“:

At the outset of the twenty-first century, what do these Rockefeller-funded projects have to teach us about religion in higher education?

First, they teach us that philanthropy matters. Just as Lilly Endowment, the Henry Luce Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the John Templeton Foundation have sponsored much of the current wave of religious scholarship, the Rockefeller family helped underwrite an earlier era of research. Equally significant, the Danforth and Hazen foundations bankrolled the revival of religious intellectual life following the Second World War.

Second, these earlier projects show that religious scholarship is shaped by the hopes and anxieties of its funders. From the University of Chicago Divinity School to the Riverside Church, the Rockefellers fostered the growth of liberal Protestant institutions in the United States. Inspired by a global ecumenical vision, at least some of this philanthropy was rooted in fears of Protestant fundamentalism. Assisted by public relations founder Ivy LeeJohn D. Rockefeller, Jr. subsidized the distribution of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s 1922 sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” Reflecting the close ties among mainline Protestant elites, Fosdick’s brother Raymond later served as the president of the Rockefeller Foundation.

Similar concerns have shaped more recent support for the academic study of religion. Chronicling the “mainstream Protestant ‘decline,’” many of Lilly’s grantees focused on two questions: “1) Just how bad is it? and 2) How did we get here?” Other foundations worried about the rise of the New Christian Right. Commenting on the MacArthur Foundation’s sponsorship of the Fundamentalism ProjectPeter Berger quipped that it “was a matter of knowing one’s enemies,” a fear with deep roots in American culture. Describing a similar sentiment on The Immanent Frame, historian David Hollinger attributed the popularity of American religious history to electoral politics, noting that religion is “harder to ignore if it keeps coming back and hitting you again and again.”

Read the entire piece here.