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Emory Center for Interdisciplinary Study of Religion launches two-year project on sex, marriage, and family
By Elaine Justice | Emory Law | May 31, 2016 11:05:00 AM

Emory University’s Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religion (CISR) is embarking on a two-year project on "Sex, Marriage and Family Life" that is bringing together scholars from across the university to examine issues ranging from interfaith marriage to American divorce laws, from same-sex unions to the roots of monogamy.

Joining John Witte Jr., director of CISR, to lead the project is Don S. Browning, Campbell Professor of Ethics and the Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. Browning, who has been named the Woodruff Visiting Professor of Interdisciplinary Religious Studies here, is heading a team of 14 Emory and two visiting scholars, who are focusing on marriage, sex and family issues as they relate to "religions of the book," namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

The project’s first phase this fall features an intensive seminar among the scholars, or fellows—who represent a variety of academic disciplines and expertise—as they examine not only conventional issues of marriage and divorce, child custody, sexual identity and intergenerational relations, but also controversial topics such as abortion, euthanasia, natural bases of sexuality, cloning, kinship and more. Out of these discussions will come a series of public forums, new papers and books, public lectures, workshops and individual research projects throughout 2002. The final phase will be an international conference in spring 2003, featuring research projects of the participants, along with three dozen additional speakers.

Browning, who most recently headed a decade-long project at Chicago on religion, culture and family, sees the Emory effort as breaking new ground in understanding how religion impacts family life. "There’s not a lot of debate on these issues in which religion or theology is well-represented," says Browning. "I feel there’s a strong relationship between what happens to families and what happens to religion. If families go down, then religion will, too."

Witte, who also is director of Emory’s well-known Law and Religion Program, says that some 300 faculty across campus have a stated scholarly interest in religion, and only one-third of that number are professional religion and theology faculty. "There is widespread recognition here that religion is a central feature of life and that it suffuses all of society," says Witte. "There are three things for which people will die: their faith, their family and their freedom. This project studies all three."

Browning, the author, co-author or editor of several publications growing out of the Chicago project, including, "From Culture Wars to Common Ground: Religion and the American Family Debate," will collaborate with Witte on compiling an even broader look at religion and family. The two plan to compile a set of primary sources on family issues that goes beyond Christianity, Judaism and Islam to include Hinduism, Buddhism and other non-Western traditions represented in the United States. They will then edit a companion volume of interpretive essays contributed by project fellows and others.

Among the other collaborative research projects by CISR fellows during the two-year cycle are:
• a study of circumstances that lead to unhappy pregnancies led by Carol Hogue, Terry Professor of Maternal and Child Health and professor of epidemiology at Emory’s Rollins School of Public Health; 
• a three-city case study of religious intermarriage led by Abdullahi An-Na’im, Candler Professor of Law at Emory, fellow of the Law and Religion Program and director of the new Islam and Human Rights Program; 
• a book on how same-sex unions challenge both Christian theologies and gay mythologies led by Mark Jordan, Candler Professor of Religion, Emory; 
• a study of how the terms "dignity" and "sanctity" are used in a biomedical context led by Timothy Jackson, associate professor of Christian ethics at Emory’s Candler School of Theology; and 
• a study of Hindu marriage in Indian and American communities, led by Paul Courtright, professor of religion at Emory.
Also anticipated are projects dealing with marriage and divorce law; and a project on extended families in African American and new immigrant communities.
Other CISR fellows who will be researching and publishing and their areas of study/expertise include: 
• Azizah Al-Hibri, professor of law, University of Richmond, "Gender and Family: A Qur’anic Perspective"; 
• Michael Berger, assistant professor of religion, Emory, "Two Models of Medieval Jewish Marriage";
• David Blumenthal, Cohen Professor of Judaic Studies, Emory, "Contrasting Views of Love and Marriage in the Hebrew Bible"; 
• Michael Broyde, associate professor, Emory Law School, "Historical Development of Marriage in the Jewish Tradition: What it Tells Us About the Future";
• Robert Franklin, president of Interdenominational Theological Center, "Singleness and Marriageability Among African American Men";
• Luke Johnson, Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Candler School of Theology, "Loss of the Sexual Body in Christian Theology";
• Cynthia Patterson, associate professor of history, Emory, "Family Relations in Athenian Burial Rites and Monuments";
• Philip L. Reynolds, Aquinas Associate Professor of Catholic Theology, Candler School of Theology, "Indissolubility and Augustine’s View of Marriage";
• Frances Smith Foster, professor of English and director of women’s studies, Emory, "Cultural and Religious Representations of Sexuality, Marriage and Family in Afro-Protestantism"; 
• Devin Stewart, associate professor and director of Middle Eastern studies, Emory, "The Terminal Marital Contract in Islamic Law and Practice"; and
• Steven Tipton, professor of sociology of religion, director of the Graduate Division of Religion, Emory, expert on American religion and politics, and the sociology of morality.

The center, which was established in fall 2000, is supported with funds from Emory and a five-year, $3.2 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts. It is housed at Emory Law School and administered by the Law and Religion Program.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have made four major grants to Emory’s Law and Religion Program over the past decade to fund multi-year research and publication projects on "Christianity and Democracy in Global Context" (1989-92), "Religious Human Rights in the World Today" (1992-96), "The Problem and Promise of Proselytism in the New World Order" (1996-99), and "Religious Liberty in Russia" (1997-2000).

Emory is one of seven "Centers of Excellence" established by Pew to study the intersection between religion and the humanities and social sciences including international relations, urban affairs, and American democracy. So far, centers have been established at Boston University, Notre Dame, Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Virginia and Yale University.

The Pew Charitable Trusts ( support nonprofit activities in the areas of culture, education, the environment, health and human services, public policy and religion. Based in Philadelphia, Pew makes strategic investments to help organizations and citizens develop practical solutions to difficult problems. In 2000, with approximately $4.8 billion in assets, Pew committed over $235 million to 302 nonprofit organizations.