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Is America in the midst of a 'culture war'?

portraits of two men
October 07, 2010

With a nation seemingly divided over issues such as the “Ground Zero” mosque, illegal immigration, and the “Tea Party” movement, can anyone make sense of what these disagreements mean, and their implications for the future of American identity and democracy?

Two scholars will attempt to do so during a panel discussion, titled “From Tea Parties to Textbooks: Religion, Politics and the Struggle for American Identity,” sponsored by the ASU Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at 4:30 p.m., Oct. 21.

The free event will take place in Old Main’s Carson Ballroom on ASU’s Tempe campus.

Panelists will be James Davison Hunter, the Labrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia and executive director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture; and Alan Wolfe, professor of political science and director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College.

Moderator will be Linell Cady, Dean’s Distinguished Professor of Religious Studies at Arizona State University and the founding director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at ASU.

In his 1992 book “Culture Wars,” Hunter breathed new life into a term that has long been used in American history as short-hand for conflicts over religion and values in American public life.

He argued that America was in the midst of a "culture war" over "our most fundamental and cherished assumptions” about the meaning of the nation and how to order our lives within it.

In 1998, Wolfe challenged the idea of a culture war in “One Nation After All.” He proposed an alternate thesis, arguing that a majority of Americans were seeking a middle way that blended the traditional and the modern.

In 2006, they jointly took up the question in their highly regarded exercise in civil discourse, “Is There a Culture War? A Dialogue on Values and American Public Life,” edited by E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post.

Hunter’s books include “The Death of Character,” “To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World,” and the soon to be published “Thrift in America: A Social History of Capitalism and Moral Order.” His writing is centered around the problem of meaning and order in a time of fast-moving political and cultural change.

Wolfe is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including “The Transformation of American Religion,” “Does American Democracy Still Work” and most recently, “The Future of Liberalism.”

Widely considered one of the nation's most prominent public intellectuals, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post, The New Republic and The Atlantic, and has delivered lectures across the United States and Europe.

Cady has written extensively on conflicts at the crossroads of religion and the secularism in the United States and globally as well on issues of religion and theology in American public life. She currently directs the Luce Foundation funded project, “Religion and International Affairs: Through the Prism of Rights and Gender.”

This event is supported by a grant from John and Dee Whiteman. A book signing will take place immediately following the program in the Old Main Carson Ballroom.

Though the discussion is free, tickets are required. To obtain tickets, visit

For more information or to order tickets, call the center at (480) 727-6736 or