In 1986, a conference was held in Paderborn, Germany, on “American Philosophical and Religious Thought.” Many of those presenting papers were members of the editorial board of The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy. Informal discussions between these board members led to the decision to expand the efforts of the AJTP into an institute which would develop conferences, seminars, and other activities related to the four-point foci of the journal: 1) the interface between theology and philosophy, especially where theological efforts have utilized the American philosophical tradition; 2) the history and development of liberal religious thought in America; 3) themes of relevance to the “Chicago School” of theology; and 4) naturalism in American theology and philosophy.
Creighton Peden was asked to develop a plan for the Institute and to present it at the meeting of the AJTP’s Board in November 1986. The plan called for establishing the Highlands Institute for American Religious Thought (later changed to the Highlands Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought, or, HIARPT), to be located in Highlands, North Carolina. The Institute would sponsor two conference series. An international conference series on “Philosophical Theology” was established, to be held on a five-year schedule beginning in 1988 at Oxford University. A second conference series on “American Religious and Philosophical Thought,” to be held on a five year schedule, was begun in Highlands in 1990. In non-conference years, a seminar was scheduled for Highlands.
In addition to these academic gatherings, an annual public lecture/seminar series was to be held in June and July in Highlands. It was anticipated that some Institute members would use Highlands as a place to spend part of the summer, do some writing, and participate in the presentations and discussions of the lecture series. It was also anticipated that some members would retire to Highlands and provide a foundation for the public programs. The first lecture series began in 1990. As the public series expanded, interest in the community regarding a creative interchange about ideas and issues developed. Part of this opportunity for creative interchange involved the development of the Women’s Dialogue, which met monthly in Highlands and sponsored an annual seminar in June. By 1993, the public discussion program was extended to weekly sessions between November and April. The development of these off-season programs contributed to increased participation in the annual Summer Public Lecture series, with the result that this series was expanded into May, September, and October.
In addition to developing academic conferences, seminars, and public programs, HIARPT has also continued and expanded The American Journal of Theology and Philosophy and has developed a book series with Peter Lang, with our conference volumes as the core of this series. The proceedings of the academic seminars are published in the AJTP. The Institute regularly holds a “Reception and Business Meeting” at the annual American Academy Religion meeting in November. This session is followed by the annual “AJTP Lecture.” A HIARPT dinner has also followed these two sessions.
In June 2012, HIARPT became IARPT, the Institute for American Religious and Philosophical Thought.