The John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics owes its existence to the tremendous generosity of the Danforth Foundation, founded in 1927 by Mr. and Mrs. William H. Danforth. The Foundation’s commitment to funding St. Louis-based initiatives is well known, and in 2009 it announced a major gift to Washington University to establish the Center. John C. Danforth, former Senator from Missouri and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was particularly engaged in the Center’s founding and remains a member of its National Advisory Board. This gift reflects Senator Danforth’s specific interest in religion and politics, as set out in his books, Faith and Politics: How the “Moral Values” Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together (2006, Viking), and The Relevance of Religion: How Faithful People Can Change Politics (2015, Random House).
The founding director of the Center is Wayne Fields, PhD, the Lynne Cooper Harvey Distinguished Professor of English in Arts & Sciences at Washington University. Fields is also a professor of American culture studies and an expert on political rhetoric. His primary responsibility for the Center was to direct the search for his successor.
R. Marie Griffith, PhD, was appointed director of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and as the John C. Danforth Distinguished Professor in Arts & Sciences effective July 1, 2011. Griffith was the John A. Bartlett Professor at Harvard University prior to joining Washington University. Before her appointment at Harvard in 2009, she was professor of religion at Princeton University from 2003-09 and director of the Program for the Study of Women and Gender at Princeton from 2007-09. Griffith is known as a pioneer in the study of modern evangelical women since publication of her first book, God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (1997).
In May 2012, Religion & Politics, an online journal, was launched as a project of the Center. The journal features articles from scholars and journalists who proceed from a single premise: that for better and for worse, religion and politics converge, clash, and shape public life. The journal publishes a range of political and religious views and honors frank and respectful debate. The journal is based in Washington, D.C. In its first year, Religion & Politics surpassed 1 million pageviews and reached nearly one-quarter of a million unique visitors and was recognized as an official honoree at the 17th Annual Webby Awards in the Best Religion & Spirituality Website category.