Founded in 1988 by David Blankenhorn, the Institute's mission is to renew civil society. We are a 501(c)3, nonprofit organization.
Almost all think tanks focus either on the activity of government or the needs of individuals. IAV is distinctive in that we focus on civil society – those relationships and associations that exist in between the government and the individual. While often overlooked by both think tanks and policy makers, civil society is a big thing. From families to Little League to church socials to community service projects, the relationships and institutions of civil society take up most of our time and fill up most of our lives. This sphere of society is a primary incubator of our cultural values.
Just as our topic is distinctive, so too is the way we approach our topic. Put simply, we aim to end the culture wars. Ending the culture wars does not mean putting an end to disagreements. Nor does it, or should it, mean splitting every issue down the middle. But it does mean putting an end to the paradigm of polarization that today so completely dominates, and so harmfully distorts, our entire public conversation.
That's why we never call ourselves "liberal" or "conservative." Why we focus so relentlessly on scholarly excellence aimed at reframing core issues. Why we insist on being interdisciplinary, bringing together scholars from across the human and natural sciences. Why we so often form diverse groups of scholars who work together over time, aiming for a fresh approach. Why we give such high priority to conversation and engagement. And why our signature product is the jointly authored public appeal or report.
In the 1980s and 1990s, we brought together liberals and conservatives to help reframe the conventional wisdom about the two-parent home, the importance of fathers, and the role of marriage. This work continues.
In the 2000s, we brought together American scholars and scholars from the Arab and Muslim world for sustained engagements on international civil society. We worked to give voice to those who had previously been voiceless, such as children of divorce and donor-conceived persons. And we brought together diverse scholars for a fresh investigation of thrift, which is the ethic of wise use. This work continues.
And in the 2010s, we are bringing together pro-family conservatives and gay marriage advocates to build a new public argument for strengthening marriage for all who seek it. We're working to challenge the spread of state-sponsored gambling . . . to provide thrift education to every young American . . . to use the new technologies for public conversation that brings people together instead of driving them apart . . . and to partner with scholars around the world to understand broadly shared human values.
The issues of the moment change, but the mission and vision remain the same: to renew civil society and end the culture wars.
The Institute's flagship effort today is Better Angels, an initiative to depolarize America.
The simplest and best way to enjoy our work is to search our catalogue — a rich collection that is easily searchable and constantly growing.
Want more? You can listen to Institute leaders Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn in 2012 discuss ending the culture war on gay marriage. You can also read the wonderful comments delivered by the honorees at the 2009 celebration of the Institute's twentieth anniversary.
If you are curious about David Blankenhorn, the Institute's founder and president, you can listen to a 2012 public radio profile and interview, read a 2012 profile in the Deseret News, read a 2007 profile in USA Today, read a 1998 profile in the New York Times, read a 1995 profile in the Los Angeles Times, or watch a 1995 profile that aired on the CBS Evening News.
And if you are curious about the Institute's origins, you can read David's speech at our 1988 founding conference, listen to William Galston's speech at our first annual symposium, in 1993, and listen to Barbara Dafoe Whitehead's 1993 speech on the Institute's approach to family issues.