Berkeley Democracy and Public Theology Program receives $500K grant

Photo of BCSR Co-Directors
From left to right: Karen Barkey, David Marno, Jonathan Sheehan

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The Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, or BCSR, received a $500,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation in June to fund the Berkeley Democracy and Public Theology Program, or BDPTP.

Founded in 2012, BCSR aims to advance creative and critical scholarship on religion with interdisciplinary collaboration, according to the BCSR website. The BDPTP program will use the three-year grant to examine theological influences in democratic practices, according to a BCSR press release.

“In a historical moment marked across the globe both by demands for more democracy and efforts to resist those demands, understanding how theology constrains and enables democratic practices is of paramount importance,” said UC Berkeley Dean of Social Sciences Raka Ray in the press release.

The grant will also fund public outreach efforts, public courses, faculty research projects, curriculum development and a postdoctoral program, according to a joint statement from campus professors and BCSR principal investigators Karen Barkey, David Marno and Jonathan Sheehan, BCSR Associate Director Khai Thu Nguyen and BCSR communications and program coordinator Miranda Schonbrun.

According to the joint statement, while UC Berkeley does not have a religious studies department, campus faculty and graduate students from various disciplines produce “unique academic and scholarly resources.” BDPTP seeks to “coordinate” these resources to work on answering how theology shapes both democratic thoughts and practices.

“Religion has become an important public subject for conversation both in political terms and social and cultural terms,” read the statement. “As a public University we are doing a service to our students and the public at large by dedicating significant resources to its study.”

To answer how theology has influenced and continues to influence democracy, BDPTP scholars will look at the theological contexts and motives of voting in ancient and modern societies, religious institutions in American health care and the relationship between theology and Republican politics, according to the statement.

BDPTP will also support research projects that study Muslims in the context of European democracy, the relationship between academic disciplines and theology, and religion and media in history, among others, according to the joint statement.

“The current moment is critical for democracy,” read the joint statement. “It necessitates the development of new ways of thinking about religion in public life and a new engagement with theology.”

The statement adds that campus, a cross section of the public at large, is a “unique stage” for conversations surrounding religion because innovation at UC Berkeley sends “powerful ripples” across the world.

Through “robust” investigations and encounters with different worldviews, the BDPTP program will contribute to the “highest goals” set by UC Berkeley: truth and public good, according to the statement.

“BCSR now seeks to extend and refine its attention to theology, through a public-facing project focused specifically on theology and democracy,” said Henry Luce Foundation Program Director Jonathan VanAntwerpen in the statement. “We are delighted to support this important new initiative.”

Contact Lauren Good at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @lgooddailycal.