History of the Theology Program
The Luce Foundation has included religion and theology among its core interests from its inception. When Henry R. Luce established the foundation in 1936, he honored the work of his parents, Presbyterian missionary educators in China, and in its initial decades more than one-third of the foundation’s grants were related to ethics and theology. Regular grantees in those years included graduate theological schools of special significance to the Luce family: Union Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and others.
The emphasis was ecumenical from the outset. Starting with a 1937 grant to the predecessor of the National Council of Churches, and extending through early and enduring support for institutions such as the Graduate Theological Union, the foundation developed a decidedly inclusive approach. This orienting attitude of openness, complemented by a capacious understanding of religious practice and theological inquiry, would become a hallmark of the Theology program’s work. An open stance has shaped two of the program’s most abiding priorities: the broadening of knowledge through boundary crossing scholarship and the cultivation of religious leaders through theological education.
The last two decades have been a period of both expansion and refinement of the program’s aims. The program has sought to deepen attention to global forces and transnational connections, while simultaneously seeking to strengthen theological education in the United States. Pluralism and diversity have become increasing concerns. In recent years, dozens of grants have been awarded in support of interreligious educational ventures and work on global Christianity, with a view to better preparing leaders for service in a religiously plural world.
Significant effort has also been made to increase the value and visibility of scholarship, and to support and amplify previously marginalized voices within multiple religious traditions. Since 1993, the Henry Luce III Fellows in Theology initiative has fostered interdisciplinary research and wider engagement with religious communities and other publics.
In 2015, the Foundation’s board of directors approved the establishment of the Luce Fund for Theological Education, which supports the development of new models of teaching and learning, research and publication, leadership development and educational program design.
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