The Martin Marty Center is the Divinity School’s institute for advanced research in all fields of the academic study of religion. Through its seminars, research projects, conferences, and publications, the Marty Center fosters interdisciplinary research on religion by University of Chicago faculty and graduate students, in cooperation with affiliated scholars from around the world.
The Marty Center builds on a longstanding conviction of the Divinity School that the best and most innovative scholarship in religion arises from sustained dialogue with the world beyond the academy. It contributes to this dialogue by offering scholarly perspectives on the religious questions facing the wider public, while encouraging faculty and students to situate their scholarly questions within a broader cultural frame of reference.
Each year, the Marty Center sponsors a dissertation seminar for its Junior Fellows, programs for Senior Fellows and Visiting Scholars, faculty working groups, lectures, and national and international conferences. In consultation with its Advisory Board—composed of citizens representing law, ministry, the arts, and journalism—the center devises programming oriented toward the intersection of religion and public life. Distillations of these various academic and public initiatives appear in the Marty Center’s on-going web publications: Sightings and the Religion and Culture Web Forum.
The vision of establishing an institute for the advanced study of religion at the University of Chicago came from Joseph M. Kitagawa, the Dean of the Divinity School from 1970 to 1980. Martin E. Marty, a historian of modern Christianity, worked closely with Dean Kitagawa to formulate the purposes and operation of the institute within the context of the Divinity School's general mission of teaching and graduate research. The Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion officially opened in October 1979, with Professor Marty as its director. Subsequent directors have been Bernard McGinn (1983-1992), a historian of medieval Christianity; (1992-2000), Frank Reynolds, a historian of religions who specializes in Buddhist studies; W. Clark Gilpin (2001-2004), a historian of American Christianity and theology; Wendy Doniger (2004-2007), a historian of religion who specializes in Hinduism and mythology; and William Schweiker (2008-2013), who works in the field of theological ethics. W. Clark Gilpin served again as Interim Director for the 2014-2015 academic year.
In 1998, the Institute for the Advanced Study of Religion was renamed the Martin Marty Center, to honor its founding director for his singular distinction as historian, author, and commentator on religion and public life.
The Marty Center is located in the John Nuveen Wing of Swift Hall, the home of the Divinity School. A generous gift from Mrs. Grace Nuveen in honor of her husband, a University of Chicago Trustee and benefactor of the Divinity School, allowed for renovations to create a comfortable research center that includes offices, a small reference library for the use of research fellows, and the Jerald C. Brauer Seminar Room (named in honor of the late Jerald C. Brauer, Naomi Shenstone Donnelley Professor Emeritus of the History of Christianity and former dean of the Divinity School).