Religion and Urban Culture

Project Number: 
Start Date: 
Wed, 03/01/1995
End Date: 
Thu, 02/29/1996

In order to examine the role of religion in the public life of Indianapolis in the 20th century, the Polis Research Center located at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis (IUPUI), extended the concept of community-based partnerships developed in previous Polis Center research and publication ventures. It did so by aiming to build cooperative partnerships meant to enlarge civic dialogue on issues of religion in its urban context. Prior to the Religion and the Urban Culture (RUC) project – as this study was called – the Center published the 1600-page Encyclopedia of Indianapolis (1994) and completed the work on exploring Indianapolis’s history from a religious perspective. These endeavors formed the base upon which the RUC study worked to transition a predominantly academic enterprise into one promoting both scholarship and public learning. <p> To make the transition, the project outlined three goals: (1) the development of materials, in cooperation with community partners, focusing on lessons learned from the pilot project, (2) the creation of prototype projects with various partners that demonstrate the potential of public inquiry, and (3) the construction of a series of structured activities and conversations with project partners designed to extend public inquiry into the relationship between religion and the urban community. Work toward these goals included a 400-page first draft of essays edited by Tony Sherrill and David Bodenhamer stemming from the pilot project, a book project by Jan Shipps on religion in the city, and the beginning of structured conversations with clergy, educators, human service providers, civic leaders and others aimed at learning their interests in the project’s themes and form partnerships to advance mutual agendas. <p> Additional activities in support of project goals included the Faith and Community project and the development of locally-oriented religious education materials. Initiated in June 1995, the Faith and Community project recruited student researchers (ages 15 to 40) from the four neighborhoods of Mapleton-Fall Creek, Near Westside, Martindale-Brightwood, and Fountain Square to document over a three-month period the role of religion in the development and redevelopment of these communities. Histories, illustrated timelines, statistical packets, church/parish-community directories and local stories compiled in “Voices of Faith and Community” emerged from this process. The project’s model religious education curriculum adopted the theme “Faith and Economic Struggle.” A 12-minute video, tabloid newspaper and accompanying text were designed to help local Protestant and Catholic congregations/parishes explore how people of faith responded to economic problems both past and present. <p> The Project on Religion and Urban Culture concluded by transitioning into a second phase (RUC II) designed to extend the initiatives launched by the parent project as well as form an information and resources network, explore the interplay between religion and the creative arts, and resume research on religion and urban culture in 20th-century Indianapolis.