Founding of the Dawson Institute

Baylor University established the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies in 1957, so named in honor of an outstanding alumnus, distinguished author, and ardent advocate of religious liberty and the separation of church and state. The Institute is the oldest of its kind located in a university setting. It is exclusively devoted to research in the broad area of religion, politics, and society and committed to the separation of church and state and the advancement of religious liberty around the world.

Timeline and key events (with dates and brief descriptions)
  • Established in March 1957, the J.M. Dawson Institute was named after Dr. Joseph Martin Dawson, distinguished alumnus of Baylor, pastor, preacher, noted author on church-state issues, and the first Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs (1947-1954).
  • The first director of the J.M. Dawson Institute was Dr. James E. Wood, Jr., who served as director from 1959 to 1973, and from 1980 until his retirement in 1995. Dr. Wood was the director of the Baptist Join Committee on Public Affairs from 1973 to 1980.
  • The stated purpose of the Dawson Institute was “to stimulate intellectual interest and encourage research and publication in the broad area of church-state relations…. It is hoped that the dedication of the J.M. Dawson Church-State Research Center will represent an authentic expression of the recognized place of church-state studies in American higher education and that the purposes for which the Center is established will be fully realized in the years ahead, as both a contribution to inter-faith understanding and the meaning of religious liberty in the modern world.”
  • The program reached across the Departments of History, Political Science, and Religion to study historical, legal, and theological matters as well as religious liberty, ecumenics, interfaith relations, the status of religious minorities, court cases, and constitutional provisions on church-state relations throughout the world through open and respectful dialogue. Because of this, the Dawson Institute was recognized as a leader in church-state studies and received numerous awards from various religious groups.
  • In the wake of the end of World War II and the emergence of the Cold War, as well as the religious and political upsurge in America, the Institute finds itself in the middle of many key debates and conversations regarding the intersection of religion and state. The Journal of Church & State, the only periodical of its kind at the time, is established in 1958 and becomes the preeminent forum for publication of key articles.
  • In 1965, the Interdepartmental Graduate Degree Program in Church-State Studies was inaugurated, leading students towards a master of arts degree.
  • The first graduate of the Master’s program is Jim Logsdon in 1970.
  • The Church-State Center moved into permanent facilities in the B.H. Carroll Building and established its classrooms and library there in April 1968.
  • During Dr. Wood’s work in Washington with the BJC, the Dawson Institute was led by its second director, Dr. James Leo Garrett, from 1973-1979.
  • The first doctoral student, Dr. J. David Holcomb, graduates from the Institute in 1997.
  • Appointed in 1995, the Institute’s third director was Dr. Derek Davis, a Dawson Institute master’s degree graduate (1988) and assistant director from 1990-1995. After Dr. Wood’s retirement, Dr. Davis served as director of the Institute from 1995 to 2006.
  • In 2006, Dr. Chris Marsh was appointed the J.M. Dawson Institute’s fourth director. Dr. Marsh was a professor of political science and church-state studies at Baylor University, when he served as the director of the J.M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies from 2006 to 2011.
  • In 2008, the Journal of Church & State celebrates its 50th Anniversary, its 167th issue, and its continued place as the leading publication of its kind in the field today. Numerous pieces have been submitted over the years by distinguished authors such as Kenneth Scott Latourette, Sidney E. Mead, and Edwin Scott Gaustad, to name but a few. The work contained within the Journal of Church & State continues to be cited by key figures and institutions, including the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • In 2012, the academic programs of the J.M. Dawson Institute are closed, and enrolled students work to complete their degrees.
  • In 2013, the J.M Dawson Institute begins to reorganize through the efforts of Dr. William Bellinger, chair of the Department of Religion, and Dr. Doug Weaver, Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Religion.
  • In 2015, Dr. Weaver is named the new director of the J.M. Dawson Institute.