Campus gets $1 million grant to boost study of religious issues

Only two years old but growing fast, UC Berkeley’s interdisciplinary Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion has received a $1 million grant over three years from the Henry Luce Foundation to examine theology in ways rarely tried at a public university.

In the 1500s, Hungarian calligrapher Georg Bocskay wrote this prayer in Latin and 30 years later, illuminator Joris Hoefnagel added the painting below. (The J. Paul Getty Trust)

In the 1500s, Hungarian calligrapher Georg Bocskay wrote this prayer in Latin and 30 years later, illuminator Joris Hoefnagel added the painting below. (The J. Paul Getty Trust)

The multi-pronged Berkeley Public Theology Program funded by the grant will triple the capacity of the center to help students and the public navigate the complexities of theology in a globalizing world both crowded with communities of faith and riven by sectarian violence.

Among other things, the grant will support faculty research into the links between economics and theology, how religious practices shape people’s daily lives, and the challenges of theological pluralism and inter-religious conflict. The grant will also help the center reach out more vigorously beyond the Berkeley campus, to energize a range of public engagement with religious ideas, from critical to laudatory.

“The study of theology should be pursued beyond the walls of seminaries and divinity schools, and to do that, we must call on scholars across the humanities and social sciences,” said Jonathan Sheehan, a history professor and co-director of the center. “Berkeley, by virtue of its wildly diverse student body and status as the world’s top public university, is a fantastic laboratory for this experiment.”

The three-year program will also support two postdoctoral fellows, up to 16 graduate student fellowships, curriculum development, two international workshops and one international conference on theology and the public university to be held in spring 2018. Audio and video recordings of programming will be made available free to the public.

“The Luce grant will help Berkeley delve deeply into a set of questions that are inescapable in today’s world, where religion plays an increasingly visible role in shaping everything from politics to art to the fabric of everyday life,” said Anthony Cascardi, dean of Arts and Humanities.

Henry Luce, a co-founder of Time, Inc., began his foundation in 1936 to honor his parents, who were missionary educators in China.