Pew Charitable Trusts Awards BU 2.5 M For Institute on Religion and World Affairs New Institute to Study Social, Political and Economic Impact of Religion in the World

Contact: Mark Toth, |

(Boston, Mass.) — A historical snapshot of the world in January 2001 finds religion involved in peacebuilding efforts, and also at the source of many conflicts on nearly every continent. Recognizing the enormous social, political, and economic impact of religion in modern times, Pew Charitable Trusts has awarded Boston University a $2.5 million grant to establish the Institute on Religion and World Affairs (IRWA).

This new multi-disciplinary teaching and research center will be the home of an interdepartmental program that will allow faculty and students to pursue academic research, policy analysis, and course work on the interface between religion and international relations. Through its faculty research projects, seminars, and public lectures, the IRWA will help to improve understanding of the myriad influences of religion in contemporary global affairs. In the process, the IRWA officials hope also to enable greater tolerance among and within religions around the world.

Largely responsible for securing the award is Professor Peter Berger, one of the world’s leading social scientists and the director of IRWA. Berger will bring together faculty in fields as varied as anthropology, history, economics, and philosophy to investigate religion’s global impact.

“Boston University will become known for this work,” says Berger. “We have many outstanding faculty throughout the University who are already researching religion and how it affects society, and our ability to get along, as communities and nations. And, I expect the number of faculty affiliated with the Institute will work together to provide a better understanding of the deep impacts of religion.”

Pew named Boston University one of ten “Centers of Excellence” in the United States for the inter-disciplinary study of religion. Other universities include Princeton, Yale, Emory, and Notre Dame.

The Pew funds will be awarded over four years and will be used to promote teaching, research, and dissemination of information useful to civic, religious and political leaders interested in a better understanding of religion’s role in public policy issues. For religious scholars and students of international relations, IRWA will improve rigorous analysis of the impacts of religion on domestic and international political developments.

Also under the Pew grant, Professor Glenn Loury, director of the Institute on Race and Social Division at BU, will work with IRWA to develop a graduate-level seminar and fellows program on religion, race, and social division worldwide.

IRWA Associate Director Dr. Elizabeth Prodromou will work closely with Professor Berger and will collaborate with scholars in Paris and Berlin on a two-year comparative study of secularity in different countries. Prodromou, a political scientist who will be teaching in BU’s Department of International Relations, has worked recently with Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the Cambridge Foundation for Peace. She brings to IRWA a strong record of academic research and policy experience on issues of religion and public policy in the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.

“I am very excited to help build an institute that will promote some of the most original scholarship and policy debates on religion and international relations,” she says. “Policy makers and scholars are trying to work more rigorously to understand how religion affects the international arena, and I believe that IRWA will contribute creatively and constructively to such efforts.”

IRWA will also sponsor a series of public lectures and an intensive summer course on world religions. Another initiative will be a three-year, Cross-National Study of Inter-religious Tolerance, led by BU Professor Adam Seligman. This will build on Seligman’s earlier work under the Tolerance Project, a project in which Christian, Jewish, and Muslim academics from several countries explored how each tradition either supports or discourages tolerance of other beliefs. Seligman’s new project under IRWA will produce curricular models and textbooks that can be shared across traditions.

The Pew Charitable Trusts supports nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy and religion. Based in Philadelphia, the Trusts make strategic investments to help organizations and citizens develop practical solutions to difficult problems.

Boston University is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States, with an enrollment of nearly 30,000 students in its 16 schools and colleges. The University offers an exceptional grounding in the liberal arts, a broad range of programs in the arts, sciences, engineering, and professional areas, and state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research