The Luce Foundation’s Religion and Theology Program aims to advance more inclusive and nuanced public knowledge of religion. In its recent work, the program has been focused on amplifying underrepresented voices and engaging communities in collaborative knowledge-making. These priorities are key components of one of the Program’s largest grants of the year and of the twelve grants awarded through the Program’s most recent competition.
Inspired by the interfaith dimension of Black freedom struggles, from civil rights in the United States to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) embraces the idea that religious difference can be a bridge for cooperation rather than a barrier. Supported by a $1 million grant, IFYC will launch the Black Interfaith Project which will center the Black experience in the study and application of interfaith collaboration. Led by the Reverend Frederick Davie, the project will bring together Black religious leaders, intellectuals, artists, and activists to examine interfaith efforts in diverse Black spaces. “The long-term outcome will be that we can never again talk about the American story without reference to the Black interfaith experience,” said IFYC Founder and President Eboo Patel. “The ways in which Black people from diverse faiths have bridged divides, created new cultural forms, built institutions, and articulated inspiring national visions are at the heart of what it means to be America and American.”
Informed by a range of partnerships with existing grantees, the Foundation identified the intersection of race, justice, and religion in America as an area where we wish to learn more and bring greater attention. We issued a call for proposals at the end of 2020 and, assisted by a small group of distinguished advisors, have selected twelve grantees whose work aims to reframe received understandings of religion and race in America and aspires to shift the terms and terrain of public discourse.
A project at Georgia State University and Spelman College seeks to amplify the voices and religious perspectives of Black women while providing new knowledge resources to religious, scholarly, and civic communities. The Garden Initiative will establish an archive of documents and oral histories that foregrounds the leadership of African American women across diverse religious traditions. “Religious and theological studies have paid scant attention to women’s contributions generally, and black women’s contributions are nearly invisible,” said project co-PIs Dr. Monique Moultrie, associate professor of religious studies at Georgia State University, and Dr. Rosetta Ross, professor of religious studies at Spelman College. “By focusing on Black women’s contributions as religious leaders, The Garden Initiative will revisit the narratives that centralize men, and specifically black men, as the important agents in accepted histories of race and American religion.”
The Program in Jewish Studies at University of Colorado, Boulder will launch a project focused on Jews of color who have frequently been left out of narratives of American Jewish history. This project seeks to recover those voices and create a digital archive that documents their lives and experiences. “This is a moment when both Jewish communities and Jewish Studies are very focused on the experiences of Jews of color, but lack data,” commented CU professor Samira Mehta. “It will be exciting to bring scholars and activists together to introduce a new dimension to this growing conversation.”
Generally regarded as resources for scholars, archives collect, preserve, and organize materials critical to the production of knowledge. What does and does not get included in them can shape, not only present and future scholarship, but also public understanding. Many of the selected projects reimagine how archives can be produced as well as how they might be used, going beyond their function as academic repositories and exploring their ability to inspire new forms of community engagement and create new knowledge spaces for broad, future use.
The Callie House Project at Florida State University—named for a Tennessee washerwoman who organized formerly enslaved people in churches across the South to build mutual aid societies and campaign for reparations at the turn of the 20th century—will develop a living archive of documents and oral histories that capture the experience of race, religion, and public health in the American South. “To understand the history of the Black Freedom Struggle in the American South, we must grapple with the political activism of Black women and Black religion in matters of health and reproductive justice,” said Dr. Laura McTighe and Dr. Jamil Drake, project co-PIs. “Working in partnership with Black women activists and health practitioners to document the untold racial justice organizing histories in our region, we hope to alter public discourse and build greater health equity across the South.”
A collaboration between Dream of Detroit—a Muslim-led neighborhood revitalization organization—and Western Michigan University will also prioritize community-driven knowledge production. The Detroit Muslim Storytelling Project, led by Mark Crain, executive director of Dream of Detroit, and Alisa Perkins, associate professor of comparative religion at Western Michigan University, has enlisted filmmakers, activists, and young people from metro-Detroit’s Black Muslim communities to take leading roles in gathering oral histories and producing a documentary about Detroit-based African American Muslim leaders and the communities they serve. “This approach recognizes that insider community members have the most grounded and reliable knowledge about the issues that affect them,” said Perkins. “As leaders of community-driven projects, insider community members are also well-positioned to make the study compelling and relevant to wide audiences.”
Considering this body of grants, Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Program Director for the Religion and Theology Program, added, “These collaborative projects connect diverse knowledge makers and encourage them to work together in novel ways, pushing creatively at the boundaries of existing knowledge territories. We are delighted to support this innovative work, and we look forward to learning, along with others, from the new knowledge and insights it will produce.”