What Role Should Religion Have in Public Life?

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Leonard Witt of MPR and Martin Marty at the April 28 Symposium
Americans have long tended to say "Religion is a private affair." If it ever was, it is not now. Citizens confront it on page one, in prime time, in bookstores, on campuses, in politics. It has clearly "gone public." In doing so religious spokespersons and movements have challenged everyone to make sense of the new realities. However, rarely are there public discussions about the ramifications of religion's new role. So although some aspects of religion are truly in the public light, other parts remain in the shadows. For example, newspapers around the country have started or enlarged their faith and values sections. Even the Wall Street Journal recently instituted a religion beat. However, most top editors would be chagrined at the idea of having public discussions about religion in their newsroom. So in one respect, the newsroom leaders believe religion should come to public light, but at the same time they want it to stay at least partly in the shadows.

Dr. Martin E. Marty, the renowned theologian who recently retired from the University of Chicago, believes the time is right to learn what role religion should have in public life, and with funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts he is starting out on two years of discovery in The Public Religion Project. The Minnesota Public Radio Civic Journalism Initiative helped Marty kick off that discussion with a one-day symposium entitled: "What Role Should Religion Have in Public Life?" Some 100 high profile Minnesotans from atheists to evangelicals and from lay people to priests participated in this mini-think tank held April 28, 1998, at the Marriott City Center hotel in downtown Minneapolis.


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