Columbia Univ. Opens Institute on Religion and Cultural Tolerance

NEW YORK – The Big Apple's ivy league has opened the doors to a new institute that examines how religion affects global affairs and promotes cultural tolerance.

Columbia University's new Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life, which opened this semester, has recently launched programs addressing current sectarian conflicts in India, Sri Lanka, the Holy Land and the newly established Kosovo.

And to professors at the university, the institute couldn't come at a better time.

"Perhaps no issue is of greater importance and concern to the contemporary world than that of religious and cultural tolerance," said Nicholas B. Dirks, vice president for arts and sciences and Franz Boas Professor of Anthropology and History.

"It has never been more important to study the nature of religious belief, identity and affiliation – and never more difficult to do so critically. The new institute is connecting scholarship and learning to the world of actual political, religious and cultural conflict and misunderstanding."

Mark C. Taylor, professor and chair of the Department of Religion and co-director of the institute, observed that the "world is experiencing a resurgence in religion."

The institute, said Taylor, will seek an "expansive rather than restricted view of religious thought and practice" in hopes of finding new ways to solve problems involving people of different faiths. That includes exploring these problems through the traditional opposition between the secular and religious, he added.

Seminars, lectures and international conferences will be offered and will bring together scholars from various fields to tackle the tough topics in a cross-disciplinary approach.

Some themes that will be explored include conflict resolution through sacred space, the relationship between the secular state and the religiously diverse populace, the potential amendment of Turkey's secular constitution, the contributions of Sufism and art to Senegal's democracy, and the relationship between secularism and women's rights, according to Columbia.

The institute will begin offering internship and fellowship programs this summer.

A ceremony will be held in the fall to formally launch the institute.