Westar Institute was created to address a critical problem: essential knowledge about the history of religion was often confined to universities and theological seminaries and was largely unknown by the laity and by the general public. Many churches considered the results of historical scholarship to be too controversial, too threatening to traditional beliefs and practices, and too complicated for lay people to deal with.
Westar Founder Robert W. Funk, on the other hand, believed that biblical scholars, and scholars in the humanities generally, have an ethical responsibility to offer their findings to the public, openly and clearly. And he argued that there is a large lay constituency eager to know what scholars really think and who want the fruits of scholarship to become part of an open, public discourse about religion in society and culture.
From its beginning, Westar has been committed to doing its research in full public view. Through its research projects like the Jesus Seminar and the new Christianity Seminar, and through its publications and educational programs, Westar has opened up a new kind of conversation about religion among scholars, among clergy and laity, and among non‐church related members of the public. It is a conversation that takes place in the ʺintersectionʺ where the disciplines of modern knowledge and life experience converge and seek understanding, insight, and a humane wisdom.
A culture of collaboration, collegiality, and public outreach sets Westar apart from other academic societies. Westar is committed to sharing the resulting scholarship with the public and engaging with non-specialist Associate members and others interested in its work.
- All serious questions about religion—including biblical and dogmatic traditions—deserve research, discussion, and resolution; no inquiry should be out of bounds.
- The scholarship of religion should be collaborative to expand the base of decision making, cumulative in forming and building on a consensus, and genuinely ecumenical.
- Religion and bible scholars should conduct their deliberations in public and report the results to a broad, literate audience in simple, non-technical language.