Henry Luce Foundation awards $1 million to launch “The Crossroads Project: Black Religious Histories, Communities, and Cultures”

Center’s Lerone Martin is co-director

line drawing of three people talking, one with a micrphone, superimposed on a wall of newspaper clippings

“The Crossroads Project” has been awarded a $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to advance public understanding of the history, politics, and cultures of African American religions. The grant was awarded to Professor Judith Weisenfeld, Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor and Chair of Princeton’s Department of Religion, Anthea D. Butler, Associate Professor of Religion at the University of Pennsylvania, and Lerone A. Martin, Associate Professor of Religion and Politics at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis. The four-year, multi-institution effort will provide funding for projects by scholars, teachers, religious and civic leaders, community organizations, and artists. These research, teaching, community, and arts fellows will make original contributions that will enhance the public understanding of Black religious histories, cultures, and communities.

Lerone A. Martin, Associate Professor of Religion and Politics at the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, and Director, American Culture Studies Program, Washington University in St. Louis

The project will explore many questions: What role has religion played in shaping African American history, culture, economics, politics, and social life and how have Black religions contributed to American life and culture? What impact have migration, immigration, and transnational engagements had on African American religious life? How have Black religious leaders and communities responded to COVID-19, to climate and environmental crises, and to struggles for racial justice? The project also aims to highlight the diversity of traditions in Black religious life, past and present.

Project co-director Lerone Martin remarked on the significance of the grant for influencing American public life. “References to African American religion abound in public conversations of politics, current and past social movements, and popular culture,” Martin said. “Partnering with the Luce Foundation will enable the Crossroads Project to contribute and shape such civic exchanges by harnessing and compiling the scholarship of a broad collection of established and emerging experts in the field of study.” 

“In naming it The Crossroads Project, we wanted to highlight how Black religious studies sits at the crossroads of many scholarly fields,” project co-director Judith Weisenfeld said, “and to explore how building on these intersections can be fruitful for promoting greater public understanding of the significance of religion in African American life and Black religions in American history and life. We could not be more excited to have the Henry Luce Foundation’s support in this work.”

Judith Weisenfeld, Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor and Chair, Department of Religion, Princeton University

The project will be housed in Princeton’s Center for the Study of Religion, which fosters interdisciplinary research, teaching, and public programming about religion. A major part of the project will be the development of a digital platform showcasing the work of project fellows that will allow students, teachers, and interested publics to engage materials interpreting Black religious histories, communities, and cultures and their place in American history and life. In addition to the grants to develop projects for the digital platform, other initiatives of “The Crossroads Project” include public events, a research working group that brings together scholars from across the country, a mentoring program for graduate students and early-career scholars, and a postdoctoral fellowship that will bring an early-career scholar to Princeton to develop their own research and contribute to the project.

The project also aims to support work that connects Black religious studies and the digital humanities and that fosters collaboration between community and arts leaders and scholars. “The role that African American Religion has in the life of our nation is crucial,” project co-director Anthea Butler said, “and the funding of both academic and public scholarship will enable participants to share a wide range of important groundbreaking work on the history and religious lives of African Americans. I am grateful for the generosity of the Luce Foundation in supporting the vitally important work of The Crossroads Project.”

Anthea Butler, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Pennsylvania

Marie Griffith, director of the Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University in St. Louis, observed both the current timeliness of this project and its lasting relevance. “The creation of The Crossroads Project comes at an urgent moment in our nation’s history, in which Black people and other people of color are bearing the brunt of the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and structural racism. Such conditions have a profound shaping effect on religious communities and cultures, just as Black religious history shapes the ways diverse leaders and groups respond to today’s explosive events. Lerone Martin, Judith Weisenfeld, and Anthea Butler are among the nation’s most distinguished scholars of African American religion, and they will do an extraordinary job advancing this burgeoning field of inquiry at a crucial time.”

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.

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