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. Other goals include creating professional networks of scholars, journalists, and civic leaders committed to recovering truth as the foundation of democracy; and developing innovative platforms to advance traditional and public scholarship that revitalizes the public’s interest in and commitment to truth.
At the core of the project is a collaborative laboratory for scholars, journalists, civic leaders, and students to deliberate together about the status and place of truth in democratic life. The co-lab encompasses a rich array of activities including seminars, workshops, social media, and websites, visiting speakers and fellows, video and podcast series, graduate fellowships, and publications in popular media outlets. These activities will initiate new conversations about religion and democracy, examine how truth is conceived and constructed in the media, and foster public scholarship that strengthens civic life.
The Recovering Truth project is undertaken in partnership with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and is supported by a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation’s Program in Theology.