Tracy Fessenden

Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict names a director of strategic initiatives

By

Rachel Bunning

Arizona State University's Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict has named Tracy Fessenden as the first director of strategic initiatives.

Fessenden is a professor of religious studies for the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies and spent the last academic year as the school’s interim director.

“I’ve been treasuring up the news of this move for some time,” Fessenden said. “I’m delighted that it’s now official. The colleagues I’ll be joining at the CSRC are among those I most esteem in the world. Moving to the CSRC feels like coming home.”

The center was established in 2003. It was established to promote transdisciplinary initiatives and wiser reckonings with religion as a real-world force.

“President Crow understood that in order to see and respond meaningfully to the ways that religious symbols, language and allegiances drive change in the world, for good and for ill, we need to be fearless about thinking big,” Fessenden said. “We need to gather resources and expertise from across the disciplines, the professions and the institutions of civil society and bring them to bear on questions the academy has seldom sought to engage.”

The director of strategic initiatives role was created to help the center branch out into new endeavors. Fessenden will be involved in leading new research initiatives, expanding academic and community partnerships and creating a program of workshops, panels, seminars and internships with visiting scholars.

Fessenden already has her hand in a number of projects affiliated with the center and will join more once she starts. One project she is excited to begin includes a new class on religion and media, which will be co-taught with Fernanda Santos, a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, author and former Phoenix bureau chief for the New York Times.

“I’m thrilled to be teaching with Fernanda,” Fessenden said. “It’s a collaboration that grew out of a recent CSRC project of which we’re both a part, an initiative funded by the Henry Luce Foundation called Religion, Journalism and Democracy: Strengthening Vital Institutions of Civil Society.”

Her other projects include a project on the fate of civil discourse and moral capital in America, which she will be teaming up with School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies colleague and philosophy professor Joan McGregor for. Another project Fessenden will work on is one on climate change and the apocalyptic imagination in America. She will be conducting the project with School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies colleague and religious studies Professor Gaymon Bennett and Cronkite School Professor Steven Beschloss.

“John Carlson and the CSRC’s assistant director, Carolyn Forbes, have begun planning a series of conversations on the rise of violence and terror aimed at synagogues, churches and mosques, and John, Carolyn and I have been working for the last year and a half on a major, multidisciplinary collaborative on the task of caring for truth in a post-truth era,” Fessenden said.

Carlson is the current director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and originally approached Fessenden in fall 2018 about moving her activities to the center.

“We are so thrilled to have Tracy join us at the center,” Carlson said. “We were looking for a senior faculty member and recognized scholar in the field of Tracy’s stature to take on the position.”

Her role in the center will officially begin on Aug. 16 with the start of the new school year.

“I want to expand and deepen the conversations these projects helped to nurture,” Fessenden said. “I’m also eager to make the CSRC a forum for the most important voices, at and beyond ASU, on religion and the rise of authoritarian and nationalist movements the world over.”