Religious Studies Awarded $350,000 Grant from the Luce Foundation

From the July 2019 Desktop News | UA’s department of religious studies was recently awarded a $350,000 grant by the Luce Foundation to fund an interdisciplinary conference surrounding the teaching, research, and public scholarship of religion in America.

The conference, known as American Examples, aims to redefine the study of American religion and apply it to other fields of study, such as global conflict, social movements, and the study of religion in other areas of the world. Non-tenure track faculty, instructors, and doctoral students from around the country will meet to not only discover new applications of their studies, but to learn how to make it more accessible to their peers and the general public.

With the help of the Luce Foundation, American Examples will expand from a one-day critique of research to three distinct workshops run by members of the UA religious studies faculty. In addition to research critique, the conference will cover digital skills, like podcasting, website building and data mining, and teaching religion in America. Over the four years of the grant’s funding, the department hopes to produce four edited anthologies of original research, a public collection of 40 syllabi covering different courses in the study of religion in America, and various digital public humanities projects available through one website.

“My biggest hope is that they see themselves as not just people who study America, but people who study really interesting social formations, cultural moments, and other things that can be comparative,” Dr. Michael Altman, American Examples director and religious studies assistant professor, said.

The project’s core invites its scholars to reframe their research—to figure out how American studies can be applied to not just religious studies, but other fields, such as history, anthropology, and political science.

“This department has consistently worked on reinventing itself for the last 20 years,” Dr. Russell McCutcheon, chair of the department of religious studies, said. “The grant allows us to share an approach to research and teaching that has been very successful and effective for us—something that we hope helps others not only to establish their careers, but reinvent other departments.”

UA religious studies faculty will serve as mentors for each cohort of scholars from around the country. After participants have completed the three sessions, they will come back to campus to share their work with UA students and faculty through lectures and panels, and they will provide guidance to the next group of participants.

“There will be young scholars from around the country visiting the department two or three times a year, which should be amazing for our undergraduate and graduate students,” Altman said. “Religious studies offers research and materials for a wide range of interests, so I really think it will have quite a large impact.”

For more information about the Luce Foundation, visit their website.