R. Marie Griffith and Leigh Eric Schmidt

Although religion and politics are traditionally avoided as taboo topics of polite conversation, R. Marie Griffith, the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor and director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, and her husband, Leigh Eric Schmidt, the Edward Mallinckrodt Distinguished University Professor, believe substantial intellectual debate between people of different religious and political views may be the best way to create a more civil environment. Each works to develop the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics into a world-class forum for the exchange of ideas.

"A Center like this is not designed to produce pundits, blogs, tweets, and viral videos," Schmidt says. "It is not about contributing hour-by-hour to the 24/7 news cycle or the ever-changing headlines at Huffington Post or Politico.  Professors and students alike will take the long view: say, for example, that it is more important to know the contours of the Jefferson-Adams campaign of 1800, among the most religiously divisive elections in all of American history, than to opine about the latest kerfuffle of the 2012 election season."

Griffith and Schmidt joined Washington University after teaching at Harvard and Princeton and are widely regarded as two of the very best scholars of American religion. Schmidt has authored numerous books, including Hearing Things: Religion, Illusion, and the American Enlightenment, which won the American Academy of Religion Award for Excellence in Historical Studies, and the John Hope Franklin Prize of the American Studies Association.

Griffith's research demonstrates a dedication to exploring how politics and religion continue to intersect and influence history. She has written many books, including God's Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission; Women and Religion in the African Diaspora: Knowledge, Power, and Performance; and American Religions: A Documentary History.

"Marie Griffith brings great talent as a teacher and scholar to her appointment as the director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics," says former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth of Missouri and president of the Danforth Foundation. "She also brings essential administrative experience that makes her ideally suited to lead an intellectual community that is unique in its scholarly and public missions."

Founded in January 2010 with an initial endowment gift from the Danforth Foundation, the Center reflects the non-sectarian and non-partisan posture of the University's founders and fosters rigorous, unbiased scholarship, as well as encourages conversations among those with diverse points of view. The Center embraces today's hot-button issues, including government size, religion, sexuality, the definition of marriage, bioethics, immigration, healthcare and many other highly charged topics. Griffith and Schmidt recruited two new faculty: Mark Jordan, Distinguished University Professor, who joined Washington University from Harvard; and Darren Dochuk, who recently won the American Historical Association's John H. Dunning book prize.