Putnam is Thompson Forum speaker Oct. 2

Robert Putnam
Robert Putnam

An acclaimed author and political scientist known for helping influence the way people think about the fabric of American society will deliver the first lecture of this season’s E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues.

Robert Putnam, who is Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, will present “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us” at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Lied Center for Performing Arts. The lecture, sponsored by the Nebraska Humanities Council, is also this year’s Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities.

His talk will be based on his recent book of the same title, which was co-authored with David Campbell of the University of Notre Dame. It focuses on the role of religion in American public life and is based on data from two of the most comprehensive national surveys on religion and civic engagement ever conducted, the book won the American Political Science Association’s 2011 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for the best book on government, politics, or international affairs.

Putnam’s message is an important one for Nebraskans to hear, because regardless of what people believe or don’t believe in the spiritual aspects of their individual lives, there is no denying religion’s influence on society, said Chris Sommerich, executive director of the Nebraska Humanities Council.

“Religious freedom is ingrained in our country’s founding and is held sacred in the First Amendment of our constitution, but we still struggle with what that means. Religion is an issue in all levels of politics, in the schools, in workplaces, in friendships, and even in families,” Sommerich said. “The demographic changes we are experiencing in Nebraska, such as the aging of our population with the exception of new immigrants, make it vitally important that we think about how to accommodate religious differences when it comes to age or ethnicity, for example.”

Putnam has written more than a dozen books, including “Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community,” and “Making Democracy Work.” Both are among the most cited publications in the social sciences in the last half century.

Putnam is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the British Academy, the American Philosophical Society, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and a past president of the American Political Science Association.

He has served as an adviser to presidents and national leaders around the world.

This season’s Thompson Forum lectures have been organized around the theme of religion, rights and politics. A variety of distinguished speakers have been assembled to discuss international religious freedom, the death penalty debate, human rights concerns, and the role of women in religion, among other issues.

To reserve free tickets, call the Lied Center at 402-472-4747 or 800-432-3231. Tickets may also be picked up in person or ordered by downloading a form from the forum’s website, http://enthompson.unl.edu. All tickets are for general admission seating.

Forum lectures will be available live online at http://www.unl.edu and on Lincoln TimeWarner Cable Channel 21, UNL campus Channel 8 and UNL's KRNU radio (90.3 FM).

Sign language interpreters will be available at each lecture for the deaf and hard of hearing.

The Thompson Forum is a preeminent lecture series and cooperative project of the philanthropic Cooper Foundation, the Lied Center and UNL. It was established in 1988 with the purpose of bringing a diversity of viewpoints on international and public policy issues to the University of Nebraska and the residents of the state to promote understanding and encourage debate.

- Jean Ortiz Jones