WFU to Celebrate Year of Religion in American Life

Wake Forest University will turn its focus from the arts to religion in 1997-98 when journalist Bill Moyers, Rabbi Harold Kushner and other prominent voices in religious life visit the campus for its Year of Religion in American Life.

The year, which follows Wake Forest’s Year of the Arts in 1996-97, will include special classes on religious themes, a symposium on religion in public life, a national conference on religion in higher education sponsored by the Lilly Endowment, a film series and other events and activities.

“From the time that the colonial Puritans threw the Baptists and the Quakers out of Massachusetts, issues of religious pluralism and freedom have been at the heart of American public life,” said Bill J. Leonard, dean of the Wake Forest University Divinity School and chair of the committee of faculty, students and staff planning the year. “The debate still rages today, which is why this year is so important.

“We hope to highlight a variety of faith traditions and stimulate dialogue and debate that improves understanding about the role of religion in American life.”

Charles A. Kimball, chair of the Wake Forest religion department and vice chair of the Year of Religion committee, said that religion is too woven into the fabric of American life not to study.

“Religion is the most powerful and pervasive force in society,” Kimball said. “The Year of Religion in American Life provides an excellent opportunity to explore the way religion intersects with public life, with personal faith, politics, the arts, media and other institutions and disciplines.”

Kushner, author of the best seller, “Why Bad Things Happen to Good People,” begins the year with a Sept. 4 address. Moyers, author of “Healing and the Mind,” a best-selling book and award-winning documentary on public television, will speak Nov. 19. Moyers is also the producer of “Genesis,” “Amazing Grace,” “Listening to America” and other television broadcasts. Both programs are open to the public.

During the Year of Religion in American Life, the Lilly Endowment will hold one of its 1997-98 national conferences on religion and higher education at Wake Forest. The Oct. 23-25 meeting will also involve college and university presidents, trustees and other representatives from 13 Baptist-related institutions. The participating institutions are: Wake Forest, Chowan College, Meredith College, Gardner-Webb University and Campbell University in North Carolina; Samford University in Alabama; Mercer University and Shorter College in Georgia; Carson-Newman College in Tennessee; Averett College and the University of Richmond in Virginia; and Furman University and Anderson College in South Carolina.

Following the conference, Margaret D. Zulick, Wake Forest assistant professor of communication, will moderate a program examining the role of religion and education at Wake Forest ñ an institution originally founded by the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina in 1834 to train ministers, but now autonomous in governance. Both programs are open to the public.

Several scholars from different faith traditions will visit the campus each month as Year of Religion residents to lecture, teach classes and lead small group discussions on religious topics. Two of the resident scholars are Carolyn Knight, an African American preacher and professor, and Tony Campolo, a well-known evangelical leader and community activist.

Seminars on religious topics will also be offered to Wake Forest freshmen. Seminar topics include “Jerusalem the Holy City: Encountering History, Signification & Ideology,” “The Power of Myth in American Life,” “Sacred Spaces,” and “Racial Identity, Religion & Film in American Life.”

In other activities for the Year of Religion in American Life, the Wake Forest University Gospel Choir and other regional choirs will combine talents for a gospel music festival, and the university will publish the “Wake Forest University Book of Days” — a book featuring daily writings on faith and other topics by Wake Forest students, faculty and staff.

The Year of Religion in American Life is the second of Wake Forest’s theme years to enrich the intellectual and social life of the campus.

The Year of the Arts, which ended in May, featured addresses by opera legend Beverly Sills, actor James Earl Jones, a performance and symposium on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, actor Alec Baldwin’s performance in the play, “Love Letters,” and the premiere of “Since Dawn,” a tone poem for narrator, chorus and orchestra based on Maya Angelou’s inaugural poem, “On the Pulse of Morning.”

Editor’s Note: Printing-quality versions of the Year of Religion logo are available for electronic transmission (color & black and white) as are photos of Moyers (B&W), Kushner (color), Bill Leonard (color) and Wait Chapel (color). These images can also be provided on diskette. To request photos, call Wayne Thompson at 910-759-4393 or e-mail at

Categories: Arts & Culture, Events