As the Department of Political Science sought to carve a more prominent place for the study of religion and politics in the broader discipline, the Tocqueville Program came into existence.

“The Tocqueville Program hopes to serve as a magnet to bring together the tremendous strengths we already have at ND in the area of religion and politics,” says Michael Zuckert, Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science. "It has the general aim of generating new knowledge and promoting greater understanding of the role of religious faith and religious communities in America as well as exploring the contentious character of the relation between religion and politics in American public life.”

Zuckert secured the initial funding for the program—a component of Notre Dame’s Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy—several years ago in the form of a $1 million National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) challenge grant. Awarded through the NEH’s “We the People” initiative, the grant required Notre Dame to raise an additional $3 million for the program’s endowment, all of which was successfully secured.

In February 2009, the program held its first conference, “Freedom of, Freedom for, or Freedom from Religion: The Meanings of Religious Freedom in America.” The two-day event included an opening debate where each visitor defended one of these competing points of view.

“Religious freedom is our first freedom,” says Tocqueville Program director Professor Phillip Muñoz. “It is an essential aspect of human dignity. Its safeguarding requires that we understand its foundations, recognize its limits, and appreciate its role in our constitutional order. The Tocqueville Program aims to do that and more.”