Campus center awarded $1 million grant to expand study of theology

Ariel Hayat/Senior Staff

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The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion will receive a $1 million grant to expand research and public outreach about theology.

The grant, which will be awarded over a period of three years, will fund postdoctoral fellowships, graduate and faculty research, public international conferences and workshops, among other things. The grant will also fund the development of an undergraduate curriculum on public theology that examines how people use religion to interact with the world.

The center applied for the grant near the beginning of the year and will receive the funds in December. Jonathan Sheehan, a campus professor and co-director of the center, said most of the programming funded by the grant will take place beginning in fall 2016. But one of the first scheduled events, a workshop on theology in East Asian religious traditions, is slated for next spring.

“This grant is seeding a lot of campus research, which will echo long into the future on a faculty level and on a student level and hopefully in a much broader context off campus,” said Susan Miller, associate director of the Consortium for Interdisciplinary Research, which supports the Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion.

The center is an interdepartmental initiative launched several years ago that fosters dialogue and scholarship on religion, despite the lack of a specific campus department devoted to the subject.

Anthony Cascardi, campus dean of arts and humanities, said the center allows for an interdisciplinary approach to religion instead of isolating it as a field of study.

“The center is the first big effort on the Berkeley campus to take seriously religion in the world,” Sheehan said.

The grant comes from the New York-based Henry Luce Foundation, which awards grants and fellowships to museums, universities and institutes around the country to broaden knowledge on subjects ranging from theology to American art, according to its website. The foundation was established in 1936 by Time Inc. co-founder and then-editor-in-chief Henry Luce.

The foundation also gave the Graduate Theological Union a three-year $330,000 grant in 2013 for the Center for Islamic Studies.

“My hope is that these kinds of grants can really galvanize a constituency of graduate students, undergraduates and faculty to together come up with an innovative form of engagement with the religious world that we inhabit in a way that both takes very seriously our academic mission but also takes seriously the way that religious commitments and notions importantly structure peoples’ imaginations, their communities and their politics,” Sheehan said. “If we can do both those things, I think we’ll have done a good thing in this world.”

Contact Angel Grace Jennings at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @angeljenningss.