Congress 2000 to Explore the Impact of Religion on a Diverse Society

Contact: Sarah Godbout, 617-358-1240 |

(Boston, Mass.) — College professors of religious and theological studies from around the world are gathering at Boston University September 11-15 to discuss the future of their subject. This comes at a time when the academic study of religion is astir with controversy; there is greater interest in spirituality than at any time in recent memory, and religion groups have reasserted their presence worldwide, for good or ill, as potent forces in social and political life.

“At the beginning of the new century,” says Boston University Professor of Religion John Clayton, “the study of religion has never been more firmly established in colleges and universities; nor has it ever been more controversial. Present controversies over the study of religion are generated less by opposition from outside than by disagreement from inside the field itself, as partisans claim the right to define the method, shape and object of their discipline.”

Professor Sarah Coakley of Harvard University observes that divisions are not new in the study of religion, but the nature of the divisions has been made more complex by mainly “postmodernist” challenges to previously accepted positions in religious and theological studies. “Old certainties about standards of truth and value have been destabilized, and no new consensus has yet emerged. As a result the future of the study of religion is strikingly open,” she says.

Congress 2000: The Future of the Study of Religion is being organized jointly by Boston University and Harvard University in conjunction with the German Ernst-Troeltsch-Gesellschaft. From a variety of perspectives, it will take stock of the present state of the study of religion and explore its possible futures. Congress 2000 will bring together new and established voices in religious and theological studies and provide a public forum in which contending approaches to the subject can be tested and contested by their proponents and opponents.

There will be both plenary and parallel sessions. In several large sessions at the Congress, leading scholars who represent opposing points of view are scheduled to debate their differences. In the other sessions, younger and less established scholars will lay out and defend their visions of the future. “The conversation across generations is at least as central to the aims of Congress 2000 as the debate between leading proponents of opposing positions,” insists Clayton, “since the future of our subject is ultimately to be defined by the brightest and best of the up and coming scholars who will in time assume the positions of leadership in the field.”

All Congress events will take place in the George Sherman Union at Boston University, 775 Commonwealth Avenue, except the gala banquet, which is set for the Harvard Faculty Club. For more details about the Congress, please call (617) 358-1152 or go to

Boston University is the third-largest independent university in the United States, with an enrollment of nearly 30,000 students in its 15 school and colleges. The Religion Department of the Boston University College of Arts and Sciences and the Division of Religious and Theological Studies of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offer programs in the areas of South Asian Studies, East Asian Studies, Judaic Studies, Christian Studies, and Islamic Studies.