Today and tomorrow the Public Religion Project holds a summary conference that effectively completes its three years of work. Then on Friday, those of us responsible for the Project, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, will close our office and hand over many of its workings--including Sightings--to the new Martin Marty Center at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago.
Your responses to this e-mail column have inspired the Marty Center leadership to keep it going. It will take a somewhat different character there, colored by faculty and campus auspices, but whenever they call on me to make a "Sightings" contribution, I'll be the same old me. Watch for us. (It may take a few weeks for the Marty Center to issue its first "Sightings" so if you don't receive one for a while, please don't worry that you've been dropped from the list.)
Now for the good-byeing. The Public Religion Project was the idea of the Pew people, and I was glad to spend my last 1.5 teaching years half-time and my first 1.5 post-teaching years fulltime with it. It was demanding and rewarding (and often hard) work. The opportunities it presented for us to help "promote efforts to bring to light and interpret the forces of faith within a pluralistic society" have been limitless and we have responded sometimes beyond our reasonable limits. We have seen a great enlargement of religion-in-public phenomena these three years; it is impossible to know how many of them we can claim some credit for. There has been an impressive increase in the number and vitality of centers, institutes, and projects--the Martin Marty Center being one--that will parallel, perpetuate, and enhance the work.
And finally, thanks to The Pew Charitable Trusts, the inventors of all this; the University of Chicago stagers; the effective staff including Edith Blumhofer, Ann Rehfeldt, Katri Brewer, Jonathan Moore, and some graduate students; a very alert and helpful advisory board; and some 150-200 scholars who have participated in our whirlwind of consultations. We'll all be working further to enhance the concept of "public religion" and to see it realized in American public and religious life. Thanks to you.