Vision for Tocqueville Program Becoming Reality

October 15, 2009

As the Department of Political Science pushes to carve a more prominent place for the study of religion and politics in the broader discipline, the Tocqueville Program for Inquiry Into Religion and American Public Life will be at the center of the conversation.

"[The Tocqueville Program] hopes to serve as a magnet to bring together the tremendous strengths we already have at ND in the area of religion and politics," says Michael Zuckert, Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science. "It has the general aim of generating new knowledge and promoting greater understanding of the role of religious faith and religious communities in America as well as exploring the contentious character of the relation between religion and politics in American public life."

Zuckert secured the initial funding for the program—a component of Notre Dame's Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy—several years ago in the form of a $1 million National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) challenge grant. Awarded through the NEH's "We the People" initiative, the grant required Notre Dame to raise an additional $3 million for the program's endowment, all of which is now in place.

Although Zuckert can see the Tocqueville Program creating an undergraduate minor in the future, its current focus is on providing a forum for scholarly discourse.

In February 2009, it welcomed Mark Lilla (Columbia University), William Galston (Brookings Institution), and Nicholas Wolterstorff (Yale University) to campus for its first conference, "Freedom of, Freedom for, or Freedom from Religion: The Meanings of Religious Freedom in America." The two-day event included an opening debate where each visitor defended one of these competing points of view.

According to Zuckert, hosting this conference and others like it—the next one tentatively scheduled to examine religion and race—is among the Tocqueville Program's most important initiatives. Also noteworthy is the plan to organize an annual seminar that would bring together journalists and Notre Dame faculty. Currently in development, the seminar would allow those in attendance to discuss the historical, theological, political philosophic, and legal contexts of issues related to religion.

"We hope to improve the knowledge level of the people who communicate to all the rest of us," Zuckert says.

That "we" he speaks of grew by two this fall. James Mastrangelo, who recently earned his Ph.D. from Rutgers University, is the first person to receive a postdoctoral fellowship through the program, thanks in large part to a grant from the Jack Miller Center and the Veritas Fund.

Phillip Muñoz joined the department and the program as Tocqueville Associate Professor of Religion & Public Life. Previously a member of the faculty at Tufts University, he spent 2008–09 as a visiting fellow at Princeton University. In his God and the Founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson, just published by Cambridge University Press, Muñoz illustrates that, contrary to popular belief, these three U.S. Founding Fathers never reached a consensus on what separation of church and state should actually mean.

"Muñoz is one of the country's brightest young scholars," says reviewer George Weigel of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. "His first major book should be required reading at the Supreme Court and indeed wherever issues of religious freedom are discussed in America today."

The opportunity to pursue further work on this topic at Notre Dame was one Muñoz couldn't pass up.

"Religious freedom is our first freedom," he says. "It is an essential aspect of human dignity. Its safeguarding requires that we understand its foundations, recognize its limits, and appreciate its role in our constitutional order. The Tocqueville Program aims to do that and more. To be a part of its foundation is a true blessing and a part of my scholarly vocation."