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Columbia’s Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice awarded a $500,000 grant from Henry Luce Foundation to support ‘The Art, Politics and Publics of Black Faith' project

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 11, 2020 New York, NY

How have appeals to faith figured in the midst of a pandemic that has disproportionately taken black lives? And what role has faith played in view of the invigorated wave of protests that have emerged in response to the ongoing onslaught of anti-black violence, captured on camera yet again.

Funded with a $500,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and led by Josef Sorett, a professor of Religion and African American and African Diaspora Studies and chair of Columbia’s Department of Religion, the Art, Politics and Publics of Black Faith takes up such questions. In doing so, the project foregrounds the longstanding problem of how to go about studying African American religion and culture in a moment of protracted black death—a phenomenon that is pressingly current yet by no means novel.

The question of religion—and black faith, specifically—is something that has troubled the field of black studies for some time, according to Sorett. The language of faith has a long history in the study of black life. Scholars recognize the significance of black churches as a foundational institution, yet many are often reluctant to give the topic much air time—perhaps owing to the mixed history of religion in black life and the secular orthodoxies of the university. As Sorett notes, the idea of “faith” has functioned in both sacred and secular registers—most obviously in such contexts as gospel music and the Civil Rights movement. Yet various notions of faith have also been invoked by black activists, artists and thinkers who are typically identified as agnostic or...