Grace Dyrness needs a calculator to demonstrate the dramatic growth experienced by the Center for Religion and Civic Culture since its opening in 1996.
“We have more than doubled our funding since the 1996-1997 academic year,” said Dyrness, associate director of the center. “That year we received $246,800 in grants. And in 1998-1999, our funding is $615,000, so we’re in an expansion state.”
The initial funding came as a result of a report entitled “Politics of the Spirit,” written in 1996 by religion professor and center Executive Director Donald E. Miller, USC religion professor emeritus John Orr and UC Santa Barbara professor of religion Wade Clark Roof.
“After reading the report, Dennis Collins, president of the James Irvine Foundation, requested a dozen copies to go to his program officers,” Dyrness said. “We got a phone call that initiated a long series of conversations, which led to the center’s first grant in 1996. It was for $390,000.”
That grant was recently renewed to the tune of $500,000 for two years. Over the next two years, the center received a $100,000 grant from USC’s Annenberg Center for Communication, a $242,718 Haynes Foundation grant and $175,000 in a collection of other grants from such organizations as the California Council of the Humanities, Howard Ahmanson’s Fieldstead Co., the Lilly Endowment and the Louisville Institute, Dyrness said. Two full-time project coordinators and eight more research assistants were hired with the additional funds.
“These foundations were encouraged by the reconciliation and revitalization roles that many inner-city churches were playing in the aftermath of the 1992 civil disturbances,” Miller said. “But the public’s increasing interest in religion also motivated philanthropists to seek more information about the growth of civic activism by faith-based community organizations.
“Part of the story to be told about this center is that our timing was absolutely perfect in that we got in on the early part of the wave in terms of foundations starting to look to universities for documentation of the role that religion was playing at the civic level,” Miller said.
The center, which studies and disseminates information about the way that faith communities are transforming urban neighborhoods, is uniquely positioned to ride the crest of that wave, Dyrness added. For instance, research on immigrant congregations “has made us aware of the close connection between immigrant congregations here and sister congregations in their own countries. Thus, we are embarking on a study of this transnational connection,” Dyrness said.
“We are finding that in order to understand what is happening in Los Angeles, we need to understand its deep and fluid ties with the countries of its new residents. I guess this is what it means to be living and working in a global city.”