The Luce Foundation’s Theology program aims to advance understanding of religion and theology. Through grants to seminaries, divinity schools, and research universities, the program supports the work of scholars, cultivates the next generation of leaders, and promotes public engagement.
The program supports projects whose engagements extend into a variety of settings—from religious communities and academic fields to activist networks and media venues. Emphasis is placed on projects that cross religious, disciplinary, and geographic borders, and on scholarship that is theoretically sophisticated, historically informed, critically reflexive, and practically invested.
Particular attention is given to work that rethinks what theology is and reimagines its contemporary significance; to research that creatively examines received assumptions about religion, secularity, and public culture; and to projects located at the intersections of theological inquiry and the multidisciplinary study of religion.
Responding to the diverse sector of North American institutions dedicated to graduate and professional education in theology and religion, the program provides support for seminaries and divinity schools, research universities and university-based centers, and a limited number of independent media organizations.
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.
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.
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 recent years, an increasing number of grants have been awarded to research universities.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Jonathan was the founding director of the religion and the public sphere program at the Social Science Research Council, where he developed and directed a range of grant-funded projects, launched a suite of experimental digital publishing platforms, served as acting director of communications, and worked to incubate a new initiative on knowledge and culture in a digital age. Jonathan is co-editor of a series of books on secularism and religion, including Habermas and Religion (Polity), Rethinking Secularism (Oxford), The Post-Secular in Question (NYU), The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere (Columbia), and Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age (Harvard). Originally trained as a philosopher, he received his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and he is currently a visiting scholar at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge.
Elizabeth was hired as an Administrative Assistant in 1993. She had graduated with a degree in advertising art and computer graphics. After working for six years in sales and then for six years in insurance, she was drawn to the non-profit field. In previous years, she has assisted in many of areas of the Foundation, including Higher Education, the Henry R. Luce Professorship Program, Asia, the US-China Cooperative Program, the Luce Fund for Asian Studies, Public Affairs, and Administration and Finance.