The Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University has launched a new interdisciplinary project that seeks to examine how we arrived at a period of indifference towards truth and how we might move beyond it. The collaborative initiative will bring together scholars, journalists, civic leaders, and students to discuss the role of truth and truths—trust in facts as well as faith in secular areas such as science, progress, or the market—in the hopes of “strengthening the capacity of our students and fellow citizens to bear witness to truth, to safeguard the public trust, and to begin the shared work of repairing the damaged fabric of democratic life.”
We witness today a striking indifference to truth. In parts of our government, swaths of the media, some of our classrooms, and key sectors of culture, the imperative to seek and tell the truth is ignored, even viewed with contempt. Authoritarian, anti-democratic, and anti-expertise movements are surging in the United States and around the world. The credibility of scientists, journalists, educators, and civil servants erodes as trust in the institutions of civic life falls away. Religious actors and institutions play ambivalent roles, in some cases resisting and in others supporting the traffic in fabrications and falsehoods.
To respond to this “post-truth” moment, the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict at Arizona State University is undertaking a three-year project: Recovering Truth: Religion, Journalism, and Democracy in a Post-Truth Era. This interdisciplinary research project encourages scholars, journalists, and students to deliberate on and create new platforms for thinking and communicating about the pursuit, meaning, discovery, and recovery of truth in democratic life. As a research unit in one of the largest public universities in America, we acknowledge our responsibility to consider whether and how the academy has contributed to the deterioration of truth as an object of civic care, and how it can marshal resources for reversing this trend. We also ask how the media might do better. We are especially interested in exploring the place of theology in democracy. In this project, theology serves as a provocation for deeper conversation—an invitation for apprehending truths that resist reduction to statements of fact. We wish to examine the role that different religious as well as secular beliefs about reality, transcendence, moral principles, and other truth claims have played—and might play—in animating democratic life.