Religion & Politics
Joseph Prud’homme, associate professor of political science and director of the College’s Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture (IRPC) for eight years, has always been passionate about the Institute’s work. Funded by private individuals and foundations, the IRPC offers lectures and symposia, a program on governance, a peer-reviewed book series, the Cincinnatus Leadership Scholars Program, and opportunities for students to study at Oxford and in Jerusalem, among other cities abroad.
“Our mission is to study the various ways religious belief and practice and political culture intersect, and the ways religion and the founding values of the United States have ennobled political and cultural developments,” Prud’homme says. “This mission is more vital now than ever.”
As impressive as the IRPC’s current programming is, Prud’homme has a more encompassing vision that recently found its legs. Thanks to a significant gift from alumnus and former trustee David Burton M’84 P’84 and his wife, Ann, Prud’homme has been named to The Burton Family Chair in Religion, Politics and Culture, with plans to augment programming and opportunities for students.
The gift will help the IRPC integrate more fully into the activities of the College, Prud’homme says, most readily by attracting more — and more widely known — speakers who can stay longer to extend and deepen interactions with students. “Instead of having the speaker come and give a lecture to students with a quick seminar before and a dinner afterward – and then we don’t see them again –” he says, “[we could] have someone stay for a week and conduct a series of workshops for students.”
Students already benefit from IRPC-sponsored reading groups that encourage them to explore timely subjects in-depth. “Eighteen to 20 students meet over a meal, which the Institute provides, to dive into great works,” Prud’homme says. “We’ve also done reading groups for topics relevant to contemporary policy debates, such as a sustained focus on the national debt and the moral preconditions necessary for sustainable budgeting over time.”
And while students have for years participated in the IRPC’s Oxford University Research Seminar, which takes high-achieving WC scholars to study at the University of Oxford, additional resources provided by the chair will make more scholarship funding available for this and other chances to study abroad. The Institute is also augmenting resources for those working on their Senior Capstone Experience and forming new partnerships with organizations that address questions of religion and politics, such as the Manhattan Institute, where students can do summer internships.
“The Institute is able to encourage students and make available to them viewpoints and perspectives that they may not have entertained, to provide research and resources they never thought they could have access to,” Prud’homme says.
A final project that will launch with the additional funds is an online platform to distribute research briefs, called Institute Findings, to complement the IRPC’s existing book series. Student fellows will help edit and produce the research for these short position papers and disseminate them in digital form.
“The Burton family’s transformative gift to endow this chair ensures that the Institute will continue to thrive and grow,” says Patrice DiQuinzio, provost and dean of the College, “and that students, faculty and staff will be able to enjoy all that the Institute provides for years to come.”
“Student fellows [from the Institute] have gone to the University of Chicago graduate school and Duke Law School; taken positions in high finance companies such as Morgan Stanley; and gone into the ministry, the military, and other areas of public service,” Prud’homme says. “To see the success of my students makes all of my hard work absolutely worthwhile and deeply enriching to me as a professor.”
The College plans an event on Feb. 21, 2019, to inaugurate the chair and highlight the work of the IRPC.