Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture

Meetings & Conferences

Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture


Every two years, the Center holds a conference on religion and American culture featuring the work of nationally recognized scholars speaking on a wide variety of subjects. Programs include both presentations and roundtable discussions.  Proceedings from the biennial conferences are available here.


Click here to download a PDF copy of the program for the 5th Biennial Conference on Religion and American Culture.

5th Biennial Conference Program

 June 1-4, 2017


6:00-8:00 pm Opening Reception, Platt 99

8:00-8:30 pm Alexander Hotel Art Tour, Lobby



Studying and Teaching American Religion in the 21st Century

8:30-10:00 am Alexander Ballroom


Even casual observers of American religion know that the “none” category has grown rapidly in recent years.  How has this measure of religious affiliation affected the study of religion more broadly?  How has it changed our perception of the role played by traditional religious institutions?  Is there evidence of similar shifts in the past? If it true that our students are less religious, at least as measured by affiliation and tradition, what does this mean for our ability to teach them about religion? 

Speakers: Matt Hedstrom (University of Virginia), Ariela Keysar (Trinity College), Christel Manning (Sacred Heart University)  


10:30-12:00 pm Alexander Ballroom 

Digital Methods 

Many fields have been affected by the rise of digital methods.  To what degree have new methods for conducting or disseminating research changed the field?  Do greater changes seem to be on the horizon and, if so, what should we expect?  What is the nature of such changes:  Access by more people, access to more data, opportunities to broaden scope, ability to layer information, creation of new sorts of community?  Do changes in methods portend communication difficulties within fields, either between and among generations or between and among scholars who use different methods?  If so, are these difficulties qualitatively different from the past or just a different version of a perennial issue? 

Speakers: Christopher Cantwell (University of Missouri, Kansas City), Roger Finke (Pennsylvania State University), Amy DeRogatis (Michigan State University) and Isaac Weiner (Ohio State University) 


12:00 pm Lunch break. Light snacks available at the Nourishment Hub.


The Religious Ordering of Things: Nation and World 

1:30-3:00 pm Alexander Ballroom

Religion and the American State 

The relationship among lived religion, civil religion, secularism, and government authority is a subject of continuous inquiry.   What is the relationship among religion (of any kind), patriotism, and nationalism?   How has “Religious Freedom” legislation shaped the public conversation about religion’s role and how are those changes perceived by different (racial, ethnic, LGBTQ) publics?  In the same vein, how are attitudes toward policing or military intervention related to religion and how do these differ among those same publics? How has nationalism—or the reaction to it—shaped the very construction of the field? 

 Speakers: David Sehat (Georgia State University), Lerone Martin (Washington University – St. Louis), Melissa Wilcox (University of California Riverside) 


3:30-5:00 pm Alexander Ballroom

American Religion and the World   

Increased attention is being paid to American religion’s role in international affairs, as well as interaction with the world shaping American religion. From national security, missionaries, and war to colonization, nation building, and empire, there exist complex relationships. How does religion provide the background for justification of authority in the ordering of life internationally? How does it authorize the use of force in its international interventions and initiatives? How is a religious vision of the state mapped onto international space? What role does “security” play in a religiously-inspired international agenda? 

 Speakers: John Corrigan (Florida State University), Sylvester Johnson (Northwestern University), Melani McAlister (George Washington University) 



Pluralism and Production 

8:30-10:00 am Alexander Ballroom

Diversity, Pluralism, Secularism: 

For years, American religious historians claimed that the religious freedom that resulted from disestablishment created religious competition that led to the United States’ high level of religiosity. Recent studies, however, indicate that pluralism and its unlimited options might be leading to lower levels of religious belief and practice. What is the nature of the relationship among diversity, pluralism, and secularism? Does religious freedom breed vibrant and diverse faiths, or does it create so many options that people eventually relativize them all and turn toward secularism?  

Speakers: Khyati Joshi (Farleigh Dickinson University), Peter Manseau (Smithsonian), Fengang Yang (Purdue University) 


10:30-12:00 pm Alexander Ballroom

Cultural Production and American Religion 

Twenty years ago, Steve Warner called the master function of religion “social space for cultural pluralism.”  What role does religion play today in sustaining multiple cultures and, relatedly, what role does it play in supporting an ideology of pluralism as desirable?   How does religion contribute to or challenge racialization—the practice of producing, maintaining, and contesting racial classification?  Are we indeed witnessing the inevitable end of “white, Christian America?”  How is religion reflected in movements such as Black Lives Matter or Standing Rock? 

Speakers: Paul Harvey (University of Colorado, Colorado Springs), Josef Sorett (Columbia University), Tisa Wenger (Yale University) 


12:00 pm Lunch break. Light snacks available at the Nourishment Hub.


What we do, how we do it 

1:30-3:00 pm Alexander Ballroom

How a Changing Landscape Reshapes the Study of Religion 

The role of traditional religious institutions is changing, but so too are the institutions that study religion in society.  Seminaries once dominated the study of American religion, but now the field is dominated by large religious studies, history, and sociology departments in state and private universities. Meanwhile, large research centers within and without academia were created to study various aspects of religion in the United States. What do shifts in funding and the creation of centers that change the infrastructure of the study of American religion portend? How are these changes are affecting the field, itself? Have governmental or neoliberal interests of some funders shaped the way questions are asked and answers given, and if so, how? 

Speakers: Deborah Dash Moore (University of Michigan), Marie Griffith (Washington University – St. Louis), Besheer Mohamed (Pew Research Center) 


3:30-5:00 pm Alexander Ballroom

Categories and Interpretation 

Many of our conversations hinge on well-known organizing principles:  gender, race, class, tradition, institutions, centuries, etc.   How well do these categories serve us today? Are there new frontiers that transcend these categories, or are changes primarily aimed at doing these same things “more and better”?  

Speakers: Kathleen Flake (University of Virginia), Kathryn Lofton (Yale University), Ann Taves (University of California Santa Barbara) 


5:15-8:15 pm Closing Reception, City Way Gallery (lower level)