From its inception in 1957, the stated purpose of the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies has been to stimulate academic interest and encourage research and publication in the broad area of church-state relations, which has been called "the greatest subject in the history of the West." This mission was carried out through graduate programs in Church-State Studies and Religion, Politics and Society for over 50 years. The Church-State Research Center which provided a vast amount of research material for the graduate programs was closed in 2012, with the collection now integrated into Moody Library. The Keston Center for Religion, Politics, and Society, now housed in the space vacated by the Church-State Research Center, is part of the Baylor University Libraries' Special Collections and is available to students and visiting scholars who wish to study religion in communist, post-communist, and other totalitarian societies. And, since 1958, the Dawson Institute has produced the quarterly Journal of Church and State, the leading journal in the field, published by Oxford University Press.
In carrying out its statement of purpose, the Institute has from the beginning sought to honor a threefold commitment: to be interfaith, interdisciplinary, and international. All of the programs of the Institute have been sustained, within an academic setting, by a commitment to the inviolability of religious liberty for all people, of all faiths and no faith, everywhere. By religious liberty is meant the principle that all human beings have the inalienable right to believe and practice any religion, or no religion at all, and that all governments, having no competence of their own in matters of religion, should remain free from unnecessary entanglements with religion and strive to protect this basic right which is so fundamental to all freedoms and provides the cornerstone of all human rights.
In the implementation of its programs, the Institute has sought always to be faithful to its commitment and purpose. It has brought to the University distinguished authors and scholars from a wide range of academic disciplines and religious traditions. Catholics, Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, and Jews, as well as members of other religious traditions, have been participants in its conferences and symposia and are regular contributors to its publications. A diverse group of scholars have served from the beginning on the Editorial Council of the Journal of Church and State and the National Advisory Council of the Institute.