In 1998, Penn’s School of Arts and Sciences (SAS) sponsored a three-day Steinberg Symposium, “Have Faith in the City,” featuring then Princeton Professor John J. DiIulio, Jr. The interest and turnout by a diverse array of Penn faculty members, staff members, and students far exceeded all expectations. The events were also attended by hundreds of leaders and citizens associated with Philadelphia’s more than 2,000 urban religious congregations.
Penn recruited DiIulio to found, develop, and direct each of two separate but related new programs within SAS, the Robert A. Fox Leadership Program, known as Fox, which launched in 1999, and the Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society (CRRUCS), which launched in 2000. CRRUCS was established with a Pew Charitable Trusts “Centers of Excellence” grant. In return for about $5 million in Pew support, Penn-SAS agreed to dedicate to CRRUCS in perpetuity a sizable fraction of office and common space in the historic complex at 3814 Walnut Street that in 2015 was dedicated as The Robert and Penny Fox Family Pavilion, and also a fraction of its chaired senior faculty director’s teaching and research time.
During its first four years, CRRUCS focused mainly on producing and disseminating professional empirical research. Much of the CRRUCS era research focused either on the “faith factor” in relation to civic outcomes or on the extent to which urban religious congregations and other faith-based nonprofit organizations, both local and national, delivered diverse social services to low-income children, youth, families, and communities. During that period, DiIulio took an early leave of absence to serve as Assistant to the President of the United States and the first Director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Encouraged to do so by successive cohorts of the Penn students in his popular Political Science 240 seminar, “Religion, Nonprofit Organizations, and U.S. Public Policy,” DiIulio summarized the early empirical research, exposed several myths about church-state history, and chronicled his experiences as “first faith czar” in Godly Republic: A Centrist Blueprint for America’s Faith-Based Future (University of California Press, 2007).
DiIulio went on to assist the Obama administration in reconstituting his former office as the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and in expanding its affiliated centers to all cabinet agencies and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In the mid-2000’s, in response to growing Penn undergraduate student interest, CRRUCS was recast into PRRUCS—the Program for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society.
CRRUCS had focused mainly on policy-relevant academic research, most notably, the path-breaking research by PRRUCS Resident Senior Fellow Dr. Ram Cnaan of Penn’s School of Social Policy and Practice on urban community-serving religious ministries. PRRUCS retained the commitment to such research but focused ever more on engaging Penn undergraduates and faculty members across the natural sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities in a wider range of religion-relevant studies, courses, and special events.
With the strong encouragement of Pew’s religion program officials, and under the leadership of then SAS Dean of the College (and later SAS Dean of the Faculty), Dr. Rebecca Bushnell, during just its first three years, a PRRUCS faculty steering committee, along with faculty consultants drawn from physics to philosophy, supported the development of more than three dozen religion-relevant Penn undergraduate courses.
More than a dozen years later, most of those PRRUCS-sponsored courses were still being offered, many of them among the most widely popular courses in the College of Arts and Sciences.
In 2015, on the 15th anniversary of PRRUCS, Penn President Amy Gutmann dedicated the beautifully renovated complex at 3814 Walnut Street as The Robert and Penn Fox Family Pavilion. Honoring the “Center of Excellence” agreement that brought the original program into being, PRRUCS was guaranteed office space in the Leadership Hall basement suite and on its second floor.
In 2020, when PRRUCS celebrated its 20th anniversary, it was already three years into the initiative that, thanks to the vision and generosity of Penn alumnus James N. Perry, Jr., C’82, will still be central to the program’s work when it celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2030—the Perry-Collegium Institute project.
James N. Perry Jr., Francis J. Hager, Vincenzo La Ruffa
In 2021, Perry, joined by two other generous and visionary Penn alumni, Francis J. Hager W’79 and Vincenzo La Ruffa C’02, created a ten-year fund ensuring that PRRUCS, led by its Executive Director, Dr. Daniel Cheely GR’15, will be able to make the Perry-Collegium Institute project flourish along with four other initiatives, each of which continues or complements work begun or done by CRRUCS/PRRUCS during its preceding eras:
- Common Ground for Common Good (C2G2)
- Sacred Places/Civic Purposes
- Partnership for Empirical Studies and Surveys (PESS)
- Global Religion and Transnational Religious Organizations