In addition to the journalism fellowships, which seem to be working well, the Divinity School established its first short-term conference on March 27-28, 2008, to enable religion newswriters and religion specialists to meet at Duke and discuss matters of common concern. The theme of this first, largely experimental, conference was “Religion in the Public Square.”
The journalists who came to Duke were an interesting cross section of the profession: Barbara Bradley Hagerty of NPR, Cathy Grossman of USA Today, Michael Paulson of The Boston Globe, Alan Cooperman of The Washington Post, Tim Funk of The Charlotte Observer, Yonat Shimron of The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer, Mark Pinsky of the Orlando Sentinel, Ted Olsen of Christianity Today, and Jason Byassee of The Christian Century.
They participated in four panels—“America’s God: Trends in American Religion,” “The Ups and Downs of the Mainline,” “Evangelicals after Billy Graham,” and “Religion in the Public Square: Where Should the Lines Be Drawn?”
The guests from the media were joined on panels by Duke faculty Lauren Winner, Mark Chaves, Jay Carter, Stephen Chapman, Jo Bailey Wells, Grant Wacker, Greg Jones, Paul Griffiths, Randy Maddox, Jeff Powell and me. Wacker also gave a rousing public lecture on “Billy Graham’s America.” The discussions were lively and engaged, so much so that it was difficult to end panels on time. The strong impression I gathered from the intensity of the discussions was that Duke had managed to do something that was really useful both to journalists and to faculty.
Which brings us to the end, thus far, of two stories: my own improbable life with the media, and the more important story of Duke Divinity School’s relationship to religion newswriting in America.
There is no way for the Divinity School to ensure success in its media initiatives, though there are reasons to be optimistic about what has been done so far. Encouraging religion newswriters without encroaching on their independence is never easy. But there are ways to do it right. If we fail, the religion newswriters themselves will be the first to let us know. You can count on it.
David C. Steinmetz has taught at Duke since 1971 and is currently the Amos Ragan Kearns professor of the history of Christianity.