November 9, 2023 | NEWS | By Marynn Krull
On Thursday, Nov. 2, Colorado Springs college students, professors and churchgoers from across the city came together in the wooden pews of Grace and St. Stephens Episcopal Church to look at a roll-in TV cart whose pixelated screen read “Religion, Race and Democracy in America (and Colorado Springs).”
The lecture, given by Paul Harvey, a former Colorado College American history professor and current distinguished professor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, corresponded with the announcement of a joint research project between UCCS and CC professors about Colorado Springs as a model for combatting polarization.
Harvey’s lecture was the first half of the Robert D. McJimsey Memorial Seminar series. The second half of the series took place the next day in Tutt Library as a follow-up discussion about the research project. Community members were invited to ask questions, give ideas, and learn more about the evolving research project.
Harvey says talks about the project began earlier this year when UCCS colleagues Jeff Scholes and George Bayuga came together and proposed the idea. The project, of the same title as the lecture, will take an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating history, religious studies, anthropology, sociology and geography to study Colorado Springs as a site of political and religious polarization.
The project will evaluate the physical, cultural, and political manifestations of Colorado Springs’ diverse population and storied history by following the trajectory of Colorado Springs’ settlement, to the arrival of Focus on the Family in the 90s and the “Hate State” amendment, to the social justice advocacy work happening today.
Moreover, the project will study the varied demographic makeup of The Springs, including the theologically conservative philanthropic groups, the LGBTQ community, labor and social justice activists, Wiccans, indigenous communities, military families and many more sub-communities.
“The public forums, we hope, will act as vehicles for the discussion of ideas involving diverse constituencies that exist in the front range region,” Harvey said, “The plan is to make Colorado Springs and surrounding communities the intellectual hub of southern Colorado engaged with a national discourse on religion and democratic life.”
Colorado College history professors Carol Neel and Paul Adlerstein are also in collaboration with UCCS scholars on the project.
In August, the research project was awarded a grant of $300,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation. Harvey says other potential grants include some from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Lilly Endowment, and the Louisville Institute.
Research will take place over the next four to five years, Harvey estimates, culminating in many potential mediums. A speaker series, documentary film, and book are all very likely. Other potential products include artwork and the development of a “Center for the Study of Evangelicalism,” which would be the first of its kind at a public or private university in the U.S.
Harvey says the center and its unique location in The Springs would hopefully attract intellectual energy from around the country. “[Scholars] come here to research in the archives, they write their works, and they’re largely unaware of each other,” Harvey said. “And my idea was to bring them together into conversation because I think there has been a synergy of scholarly energy about our local community that we can capitalize on in this project.”
The project will also hopefully engage various communities in the city, including social justice advocacy groups such as Citizen’s Project and COS I Love You, a faith-based service organization.
Ideally, Harvey says the project will engage students from both UCCS and CC – communities that don’t typically interact with one another – in the research and creation of final products, such as the documentary and artwork.
Willa Schendler ’26, a prospective history-philosophy major, attended the series because she said she has an interest in race, religion and politics. “I appreciated the theme of redeeming religion and reclaiming it for liberation,” Schendler said, which she feels like isn’t talked about enough on campus.
Schendler said she also appreciated that the lecture took place in a church off-campus because CC can feel “kind of walled off.”
“There are a lot of moments like Jan. 6 [that happen because] because people don’t study and learn from their mistakes to do things differently,” said Andrew Palella, a UCCS master’s graduate of history and former pupil of Harvey’s. “Society ignores and devalues history at its own peril.”
Palella was brought to the Springs by the military and ultimately came back because of the feel of the city. He lives downtown and says he always liked the diverse, welcoming, and open-minded downtown community.
“I hope that Paul is right and that the Springs might be a model for moving past brutal conflict,” Neel said. “If academic study has legs in the contemporary world…we should be able to make helpful suggestions about what has worked and what could work [in Colorado Springs] to rescue a struggling civil society.”
As grants roll in and research begins next year, UCCS and CC will embark on centering Colorado Springs as an intellectual hub for studying religion, politics and polarization.