What became the Office for Programs in Comparative Religion Collection began in 1976 with a National Endowment of the Humanities
grant to develop a curriculem that focused on a phenomenological approach to religion. With this area established at Gradute
Theological Union, Dr. Mark Jurgensmeyer obtained a second NEH grant in 1979. This became the Berkeley/ Harvard Cooperative
Program that studied social values such as morality from a comparative sacred perspective. A third grant was received in 1985
that explored teaching methods and curricula in entry level religious studies. The Office was established in 1985 to oversee
research and teaching programs in comparative religion. By 1991, the grants were completed, no additional funding was obtained,
and the office closed.
What became the Office for Programs in Comparative Religion at the Graduate Theological Union began in 1976 through a grant
from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant was written and headed by Mark Juergensmeyer, GTU Professor of
Ethics and Phenomenology of Religions. This was a development grant, 1976-79, for the Graduate Program in the History and
Phenomenology of Religions at the GTU which became known as Area VIII. The goal was to develop a curriculum which emphasized
the phenomenological approach to the study of religious experience. By involving both theological and non-theological students
and faculty at the GTU and University of California, Berkeley, it was hoped that this new approach developed at the GTU would
make a unique contribution to the concept of the religious studies field nationwide.
With Area VIII firmly established at the GTU, Dr. Juergensmeyer sought in the second NEH grant, 1979-82, to expand the field
and work cooperatively with Harvard University, particularly John S. Hawley at the Center for the Study of World Religions.
This grant, the Berkeley/Harvard Cooperative Program in Comparative Religion: Social Values in a Comparative Perspective
focused on established scholars at the GTU, Harvard, and other invited institutions. They met periodically in conferences
and through working groups to study paradigms in descriptive ethics, sacred law as the basis for morality, sacred persons
as moral guides, and the possibility of a global ethic through the application of shared values.
The third NEH grant, the Berkeley/Chicago/Harvard Summer Institutes for the Study of Religion in the Liberal Arts: Towards
a Global Perspective, 1985 – 1988, expanded again on teaching religious studies. These Institutes, alternately held in the
three areas, brought entry-level religious studies instructors and professors together with established scholars to explore,
discuss, and network on the field, teaching methods, and curricula. Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Frank Reynolds, Huston Smith,
Ninian Smart, Robert Bellah, and Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty all participated in one or more of the various grant conferences
It was in 1985 that the Office for Programs in Comparative Religion was established as a coordinating office within the administrative
structure of the GTU to support research and teaching programs in the comparative and intercultural study of world religions.
OPCR promoted programs dedicated to the study of religious pluralism. These included developing comparative studies within
seminary programs, providing a liaison between and among faculties at the GTU, the University of California, Berkeley and
neighboring institutions, and sponsoring conferences, forums, symposia, and lectures. First Mark Juergensmeyer then John
Hilary Martin served as Directors of OPCR. Clare Fischer served as Acting Director and on the Executive Committee. The Luce
Foundation also contributed grant monies toward the programs and operation of OPCR.
Throughout the years of the grants, there was a strong program of publishing materials related to the focused subjects. The
Berkeley Religious Studies Series published four books: The Critical Study of Sacred Texts, The Sants: Studies in a Devotional
Tradition of India, The Divine Consort: Radha and the Goddesses of India, and Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspectives on
a Changing Tradition. Douglas Mansanger, who served as assistant in several of the grant periods, edited A Bibliographic Guide
to the Comparative Study of Ethics. Among the other publications were Sourcebooks for the Summer Institutes and teaching
religious studies, and books of collected essays on relevant subjects.
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