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About

In the Religion, Race, and Democracy Lab, we explore big questions that concern us all. How have religion, race, and democracy divided us? How can diversity unite us?

No two aspects of modern democratic life bind us and divide us into groups more forcefully than religion and race. We see their impact everyday in the news and in our lives. But there is more to the story, and we want to tell it.

Stay connected as we launch a new website and our forthcoming podcast, Sacred & Profane, in Spring 2019.

Mission

The Lab supports teaching, facilitates research, and produces stories in many forms on religion, race, and democracy.

We bring researchers, students, journalists, and public leaders together to focus on the ways these complex forces are found in and shape our everyday lives.

We are committed to the idea that learning more about how religion and race work with democratic societies can help us to live together in today’s pluralistic and increasingly global societies.

Who’s Involved

The Lab provides a highly collaborative and creative research environment for UVA students, faculty, and journalists.

Students take courses on our topics, conduct sponsored research, and learn about producing scholarship for a broad public audience.

Our faculty Lab Partners develop new courses and host symposia on religion, race, and democracy, mentor students to become independent researchers and public intellectuals, and contribute to our podcast, Sacred & Profane.

The Lab’s professional staff produce our podcast, curate our website, and oversee our public programs.

Why a Lab?

A lab in the sciences tests hypotheses and discovers new knowledge. In a similar way, a humanities lab brings students, faculty, and staff together to investigate and solve problems collectively. The Lab runs on the conviction that new understandings arise when we bring the excellence of our different disciplines into a highly creative and collaborate environment. Working together, we are committed to producing engaging research that stimulates the public imagination.

Democracy Initiative

The Religion, Race & Democracy Lab is the first of several humanities labs that have been launched by the University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative, an ambitious, interdisciplinary research and teaching enterprise to study how democracies have fared in their efforts to achieve legitimacy, stability, civil equality, accountability, prosperity, and resilience in the face of contemporary and past challenges.

Podcast

Sacred & Profanepodcast icon

Religion is not just what we think; it is what we do. No matter how we may try to set the sacred apart from life, religion is involved in every aspect of our day-to-day world—how we live, die, argue, and flourish. The Sacred is the Profane.

Research Samples

  • audio
    Freedom’s Hat
    Caleb Hendrickson
    Freedom’s Hat

    Freedom’s Hat

    Caleb Hendrickson

    Caleb Hendrickson: Chances are you’ve seen the U.S. Capitol building with its monumental dome hundreds of times even if you’ve never been to Washington D.C. It’s an icon, maybe the icon of American democracy. And the shape of the dome might be familiar from elsewhere. It’s modeled on cathedral domes, specifically St. Peter’s cathedral in Rome and St. Paul’s in London. Many mosques are also built with domes like these. Of course at the top of a cathedral dome you find a cross, and at the top of a mosque, a crescent. At the top of the Capitol dome there’s a statue of a female figure.

    Caleb Hendrickson: She’s dressed in flowing robes and on top of her head…that’s what this story is about.

    Caleb Hendrickson: Can you tell from here what’s on top of her head? Can you take a guess?

    Interviewee 1: I’ve seen this statue in the visitor’s center but I can’t remember.

    Interviewee 2: Looks like a vulture.

    Interviewee 3: A rooster, or maybe an eagle?

    Interviewee 4: Um, feathers? Yeah it just looks like feathers from down here. Inside we thought it was a chicken (laughter).

    Interviewee 5: I would say one of those Roman helmet things with the ridge on it. I think she’s supposed to be freedom so I am thinking it goes back to Roman Greek, that kind of stuff.

    Interviewee 6: There may be a symbolic meaning for this, but I don’t know it.

    Caleb Hendrickson: The statue depicts freedom personified as a classical goddess. She’s standing on a globe inscribed with the words e pluribus unum. And yes, on top of her head rests a peculiar feathered helmet. This is the story of Freedom’s hat.

    Vivien Green Fryd: I did not know the complexity of that statue when I started working on it. I had no idea that race and slavery were central to the statue’s iconography.

    Caleb Hendrickson: This is Vivian Green Fryd, professor of art history at Vanderbilt University. She has written extensively on the art and iconography of the capitol building, particularly the Statue of Freedom, which was designed by the American sculptor Thomas Crawford in the years leading up to the civil war.

    Vivien Green Fryd: He originally had her standing atop the globe of the world in order to show that the US’s Manifest Destiny was successful. She also was holding a sword as well as the American shield. And on her head, she was wearing what’s called the pileus or the Phrygian cap, which in English we call the Liberty cap.

    Caleb Hendrickson: The pileus is a soft cone-shaped hat with origins in ancient Rome, where it was worn by liberated slaves.

    Vivien Green Fryd: And when slaves were freed, the owner had shaved their heads, covered their heads with the cap, and then tapped them on the shoulders with what’s called the vindicta, and that becomes the staff with the cap on top is a symbol of liberty.

    Caleb Hendrickson: Jefferson Davis, the future president of the Confederacy, was Secretary of War at the time the statue was commissioned. He had also been put in charge of the capitol’s extension.

    Vivien Green Fryd: He objected to the Liberty cap, arguing, “Its history renders it inappropriate to a people who were born free and would not be enslaved.” Well that’s a really problematic statement because Davis was a plantation owner, a slave owner from Mississippi who argued on behalf of the slave system and the extension of slavery into newly acquired lands. So in making that statement he’s suggesting that the slaves on his plantation and on plantations throughout the United States are not human beings. They’re not people. He uses the term “people who were born free and would not be enslaved.”

    Vivien Green Fryd: Crawford knew he had to change the cap.

    Caleb Hendrickson: The capital’s engineer suggested replacing it with another Roman symbol, the helmet usually worn by Minerva, the goddess of the city and the goddess of war.

    Vivien Green Fryd: So, the statue was a conflation of three very separate personifications. She’s a statue of America. She is also Minerva, the goddess of the war. And she’s Liberty. But what’s significant is the absence of the Liberty cap is the lightning rod of that work because it really all has to do with slavery.

    Caleb Hendrickson: The Secretary of War rejected any work of art bearing any reference to slavery or to African Americans. While the building bears no visible trace of slavery, a great deal of its iconography depicts Native Americans, either as noble savages or obstacles to be conquered in fulfillment of the nation’s Manifest Destiny.

    Vivien Green Fryd: The works of art on the building and inside the building establish an iconographic program that represents the subjugation of the native peoples.

    Caleb Hendrickson: In this light it’s also significant that Crawford topped off Liberty’s new helmet with an imagined headdress, “inspired by the costume of our Indian tribes.”

    Vivien Green Fryd: All these really conflicted issues about our nation are embodied in that statue.

    Caleb Hendrickson: How are we to look at fraught images from our nation’s past? Thinking of them as sacred images of our civil religion might give us a place to start. These images command our gaze. We make pilgrimages to look at them, to come into contact with what they represent. But sacred sites are not sacred from the dawn of time. We imbue a place or an image with sacred meaning by the way we regard it, by the way we look, and the way we squint to make out its meaning. In the Capitol visitors center a small didactic panel tells some of the story we have just told. It begins to train the eye we bring to the icons of our conflicted past. How this eye learns to see and how it learns not to see will shape what the future of democracy looks like.

    Caleb Hendrickson: Crawford’s Statue of Freedom was cast in 1860 in a foundry overseen by an enslaved laborer, named Philip Reed. Jefferson Davis left for Richmond not long after. He never returned to Washington he never saw the finished Capitol Building or the statue at its top. Neither did Thomas Crawford. At the height of his career, the sculptor’s sight began to deteriorate. He wrote to his wife of the tumor slowly darkening his vision: “The fact is t’is all in my eyes as yet. And I have not found any way so far of getting it out.”


    Caleb Hendrickson is a doctoral candidate in religious studies. His work focuses on issues in religion, art, and visual studies.

  • audio
    In the Halo of a Moment: Mira ji’s Life, Times, and Poetry
    Meghan Hartman
    In the Halo of a Moment: Mira ji’s Life, Times, and Poetry

    In the Halo of a Moment: Mira ji’s Life, Times, and Poetry

    Meghan Hartman

    Meghan Hartman: Alone in a hospital room, with only a book as his witness, he finally got his wish: he died. As he had lay deteriorating, his body slowly turning in on itself, he would say to Akhtar ul-Imān, his dear friend, “ilāhi! Agar Mīrā jī ko sahat nahin ho sakti to unhen maut de de. Kam az kam isī taklīf se to nijāt ho jayegi.” “God, if Mira ji can’t have health, then give him death. At least he will be free from this suffering.” So God listened to him.

    He died in the evening on November 3rd 1949 in the King Edward Memorial Hospital of Mumbai. He was 37. But, it is hard to be sure which suffering exactly Mira ji was referring to. Was it the crippling loneliness after nearly all of his friends had abandoned him? Or was it his fellow poets kicking him out of the literary circles which Mira ji had considered family, unlike the conniptive kinship tie of his brother who had long ago sold some of Miraji’s work to serve as packaging for veggies? Or was it the tumors enflaming his body? Or was it the doctors threatening to “correct” him with electro-shock therapy, straightening out a “seemingly” بھٹکا ہوا شاعر, a wayward poet as one biographer later dubbed him, rather unceremoniously? Or was it amorphous frustrations that to be different, to be queer, to write startlingly new poetry in a new genre, would just land you in the pits of ridicule?

    Maybe all those painful questions pulsated as intensely as the tumors engulfing his body. But isī taklīf, this suffering. His emphasis on particularity, this, isī, a demonstrative so sure of a “here” and “now.” So completely confident in space-time, in the halo of a moment seemingly demarcating the past from the future, as if a moment were a forge between two mountains.

    This suffering. This. Mira ji had spent a life time of writing Urdu poetry, crafting a new genre of long narrative poems called nazms, which would unmoor our faith in a clean definition of time and space, mixing up the chain of past-present-future, unsettling any reliance on chronology really. His nazms would always measure our measurements of time and remind us: what is a millisecond from a cosmic perspective? What is a second to a god? What does that look like?

    So maybe, as he withered on the hospital bed with his book and shouted out to God to be free of this suffering, this actually referred to a moment which had accumulated other fossil-moments buried deep with memories not only belonging to him – but memories of other epochs, like the time of a pre-colonial India without British oppression, without British technologies of cruelty in the forms of outright massacres, or more subtly suffused in the syllabi of schools…or the time of Prince Siddhartha, poised to become the Buddha, which then wound up painted on the walls of the Ajanta Caves, which then trickled from the open veins of those living rocks into the eyes of Miraji standing before them, who then wrote a poem about it. Ajanta ke ghār, “The Caves of Ajanta.” Fossilized space-time enchanted Mira ji.

    But all of this is not to say that Mira ji was an escapist or apolitical, though many of his contemporaries and biographers lobbed such insults. Mira ji was much more brilliant than he received credit for…he understood that he was a creature of his social environment as much as he was an accretion of multiple time streams coalescing in his body. So as anti-colonial efforts gathered more and more steam, but began to ring in monochromatic colors, Mira ji meanwhile was crafting his non-identity politics, his slippery dance between inter-temporal dimensions, first darting to the time of gods in Krishna’s Brindavan, then taking a pit-stop at the beginning of time. His resistance came in these subtler ways, etched into the scaffolding and themes of poems, or the resistance to succumb to simple definitions of identity…he was always pluralizing and specifying.

    Perhaps that is why Miraji liked small words like (isī meaning ‘this’) or magar (meaning but). He liked small words because he saw worlds in them. Proliferating worlds saved from the brink of extinction, always a kaleidoscopic fervor. He once wrote this about a tiny little conjunction we call “but:”

    “مگر۔۔۔ یہ مگر بھی عجیب لفظ ہے۔ میں سمجھتا ہوں کہ یہ لفظ بڑھتی ہوئی زندگی کی علامت ہے جہاں

    ایک فقرے کی ہستی معدوم ہونے لگے۔ یہ مختصر سا لفظ اسے موت سے بچا کر آگے بڑھا دیتا ہے۔”

    “But – this is a wondrous word too. I understand that this word [but] is a symbol of ever-expanding life where the existence of a phrase would begin to slip into extinction. This somewhat brief word saves the phrase from death and amplifies it.”

    His jagged ending of a life cut short is – or at least I’d like to think so – is his version of a “but.”  Though he died alone with only four people attending his funeral, his death has left him hanging in a wide open space, not exactly a void or an abyss, but a large expanse – the types of expanse he would write about in his poems, where you feel like the ecstasies of dissolving into a vital space, where breath and air start to merge. Though Mira ji lies buried somewhere in Marine Line Cemetery, he still speaks through his poems and essays. I would like to think that I can still hear your voice whenever one encounters the worlds you created in your poetry. One of your fellow writers once described your voice like this:

    آواز بہت عمدہ اور بھاری پائی تھی۔ ریڈیو پر اکثر ڈراموں میں بولتے تھے۔”

    “His voice had been rich and full of gravitas. On the radio he often used to perform plays.”

    And another writer-friend wrote this:

    میراجی گراموفون کی طرح بولتے رہے۔ یوں تو میرا جی کو گفتگو کا بڑا سلیقہ تھا۔ ”

    “Miraji would speak like a gramophone. That was his flare in conversation.”

    Mira ji, your voice still echoes in every present moment. We hear you.


    Deep in the thicket of words, Meghan Hartman emerges. She can be found translating various Urdu, Farsi, and Sanskrit poems, studying furiously in the Teaching Assistant cubicles (aka the cubes) with her friends, and absorbing the various worlds of sound in and outside of her headphones. She also is pursuing a PhD in the Religious Studies department at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation will delve into the Urdu poetry and literary criticism of Mīrā jī, a luminous poet-philosopher of the twentieth century. When she does leave campus, Meghan can be found playing with her favorite four-legged friend Missy, performing sarcastic bits and sketches with her roommates, writing her own poems, or napping.

  • Reid’s Records video
    Reid’s Records
    Paige Taul
    View Transcript
    Reid’s Records

    Reid’s Records

    Paige Taul

     

    David Reid (owner of Reid’s Records): Well I mean, uh, back in the day we probably would have, I came back to run the store in the early 1990s. And I believe we had probably had about six or seven employees at that point. And we would have two cash registers going and people would be coming in every Friday after work all through the weekend.

    We had tickets for all kinds of concerts, and you know, Reid’s was kind of like the happening place for all the newest music that’s coming out. When people were dependent on actual physical product. So we were bustling.

    Christmastime probably would be the busiest time of year. I mean we’d just be from start to finish from sunup to sundown, we would just be swamped in here. People coming from all over the Bay Area. I think Reid’s (sigh), I don’t think Reid’s is so much, uh, critical to Oakland or to Berkeley or the Bay Area. I think Reid’s story is mostly one of longevity and service. And that a black enterprise can thrive and be supported by the black community, not being reliant on any other. Because I mean if it wasn’t for African American clientele here, Reid’s would not have existed, and it would not exist today.

    I mean I was, back in the 90s, I was like the number one choir robe seller for Murphy Cap and Gown in California. And, I basically had no white choirs ask me for robes. I mean they wore robes, but they tended to gravitate to where they wanted to gravitate. So its always been probably 98 percent black clientele that have supported this store for 74 years and I think that’s, that’s, to be commended not by Reid’s, but by our community.

    The neighborhood in the last, I would say, oh goodness since the probably mid-90s has changed dramatically. South Berkeley was basically a black enterprise zone, and a black, basically black neighborhoods. And it has changed, gentrification has taken over. All the most main black businesses have gone and have been replaced by housing or were just not replaced. So it’s kind of like the area has gone the way the demographic has changed. Berkeley, South Berkeley, is no longer mainly a black neighborhood anymore. It’s like I said, it’s been gentrified. So there is very few black businesses here that was left.

    Back in the day we had doctors and lawyers and restaurants, of course pool halls. I mean there was things going on up and down the street 24 hours a day. But now it’s become very quiet. And culturally very sparse.

    My prayer for future generations is to not make the mistakes, to allow the same things that happened to you that have been happening to my generation and generations previously. African Americans, I know we’ve achieved a lot of things in a lot of ways but, it’s with gentrification, there’s no where you can point where we are. I mean if you go to any city nowadays and you go to look at Martin Luther King Boulevard, there’s none of us there. We don’t live there anymore. It’s like a tombstone. This is where black people used to be. And I think that’s a tragedy.


    Paige Taul is an Oakland, CA native who received her B.A. in Studio Art with a concentration in cinematography from the University of Virginia. She currently attends the University of Illinois at Chicago for her M.F.A. Her work focuses on themes of blackness in relation to self and family.

Federico Cuatlacuatl
Assistant Professor, Digital Art

Federico Cuatlacuatl

Assistant Professor, Digital Art

Federico Cuatlacuatl is a Mexican Indigenous artist born in Cholula, Puebla, Mexico. He then immigrated to Indiana and received his MFA specializing in Digital Arts at the Bowling Green State University. Federico’s work is invested in disseminating topics of Latinx immigration, social art practice, and cultural sustainability. Building from his own experience growing up as an undocumented immigrant and previously holding DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), Federico’s research is primarily concerned with pressing realities in current social, political, and cultural issues that Latinx undocumented immigrants face in the U.S. Federico’s independent productions have been screened in various national and international film festivals including: Mexico; USA; Canada; Finland; Athens, Greece; Delph, England; Lucknow, India; Paris, France; and Azires Islands off of Portugal. As founder and director of the Rasquache Artist Residency in Puebla, Mexico, he actively stays involved in socially engaged works and binational endeavors.

Jennifer L. Geddes
Associate Professor, Religious Studies

Jennifer L. Geddes

Associate Professor, Religious Studies

Geddes is the author of Kafka’s Ethics of Interpretation: Between Tyranny and Despair (Northwestern University Press, 2016), editor of Evil After Postmodernism: Histories, Narratives, Ethics (Routledge, 2001), and coeditor (with John Roth and Jules Simon) of The Double Binds of Ethics after the Holocaust: Salvaging the Fragments (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005). She has published numerous articles in the areas of Holocaust Studies, evil and suffering, religion and literature, and ethics, and on such figures as Hannah Arendt, Franz Kafka, Primo Levi, Charlotte Delbo, Jean Améry, Mario Vargas-Llosa, Emmanuel Levinas, and others. She was the founding Editor of The Hedgehog Review.

Claudrena N. Harold
Professor, African American and African Studies and History

Claudrena N. Harold

Professor, African American and African Studies and History

In 2007, Harold published her first book, The Rise and Fall of the Garvey Movement in the Urban South, 1918-1942. Her latest monograph is New Negro Politics in the Jim Crow South, which was published by the University of Georgia Press. In 2018, she and Louis Nelson coedited the volume, Charlottesville 2017: The Legacy of Race and Inequity. As a part of her ongoing work on the history of black student activism at UVA, she wrote, produced, and co-directed with Kevin Everson six short films: Sugarcoated Arsenic, Fastest Man in the State, 70 kg, U. Of Virginia, 1976, How Can We Ever Be Late, and We Demand. These films have screened at the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney Museum, and film festivals around the world.

Sonam Kachru
Assistant Professor, Religious Studies

Sonam Kachru

Assistant Professor, Religious Studies

My research interests lie in the history of philosophy, with special attention to the history of Buddhist philosophy in South Asia. Topics of particular interest to me include the philosophy of mind, action and philosophical anthropology. I believe the history of Buddhist philosophy in South Asia is best pursued keeping in view the long conversations of Buddhist and non-Buddhist philosophers in South Asia, and also the importance of narrative thought for the history of ideas. I am currently working on two monographs. The first, entitled “More And Less Than Human: Towards a Natural History of ‘Other Minds’ in Indian Buddhism,” offers a new interpretation of the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu. The second, “Practices of Self in Antiquity: Between Athens and Pataliputra,” offers a new account of the vocabularies and practices that, so I argue, constituted a connected climate of philosophical therapy in antiquity.

James Loeffler
Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History

James Loeffler

Jay Berkowitz Professor of Jewish History

Loeffler teaches courses in Jewish and European history, Russian and East European history, international legal history, and the history of human rights. Between 2013 and 2015 he was a Mellon Foundation New Directions Fellow in International Law and Dean’s Visiting Scholar at the Georgetown University Law Center. His publications include Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press, 2018) and The Most Musical Nation: Jews and Culture in the Late Russian Empire (Yale University Press, 2010), and the forthcoming edited volume, The Law of Strangers: Jewish Lawyering and International Law in Historical Perspective (Cambridge University Press).

John Edwin Mason
Associate Professor, History

John Edwin Mason

Associate Professor, History

John Edwin Mason teaches African history and the history of photography. He has written extensively on early nineteenth-century South Africa history, especially the history of slavery, South African popular culture, especially the Cape Town New Year’s Carnival and jazz, and the history of photography.  He is now working on “Gordon Parks and American Democracy,” a book  about the ways in which Parks’ Life magazine photo-essays on social justice and the books that he published during the civil rights era challenged Americans’ notions of citizenship and, at the same time, made him one of the era’s most significant interpreters of the black experience.  He is also a documentary photographer with a long-term interest in exploring race and gender in American motor sports.  Until recently, he was an active musician, performing with the Charlottesville and University Symphony Orchestra, the Lynchburg (Virginia) Symphony Orchestra, and the New Lyric Theatre, among many other groups. He contributes regularly to Ellingtonia, the publication of the Duke Ellington Society.

Maurice Wallace
Associate Professor, African American and African Studies and English

Maurice Wallace

Associate Professor, African American and African Studies and English

Wallace’s primary fields of expertise include African American literature and cultural studies, nineteenth-century American literature, the history and representation of American slavery, and gender studies. The author of Constructing the Black Masculine: Identity and Ideality in African American Men’s Literature and Culture, 1775-1995, a book on the history of black manhood in African American letters, and co-editor of a collection of scholarly articles on early photography and African American identity entitled Pictures and Progress: Early Photography and the Making of African-American Identity, Wallace has served on the editorial boards for American Literature and Yale Journal of Criticism and is a contributing editor to James Baldwin Review. He is the current associate director of Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American & African Studies. His current research and writing agendas include a monograph on early photography in the making of African American identity on the heels of the US Civil War, and a critical exploration into the sound of Martin Luther King Jr.’s voice. Professor Wallace also teaches in areas of visual culture and sound studies.

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor
Co-Director and Associate Professor, Associate Chair, Religious Studies

Martien A. Halvorson-Taylor

Co-Director and Associate Professor, Associate Chair, Religious Studies

A scholar of the Hebrew Bible, Halvorson-Taylor focuses on the interpretation of the Babylonian exile, diaspora literature, the book of Job, and the reception of the Bible. An award-winning teacher, she offers large enrollment classes on the Hebrew Bible, as well as specialized courses on the books of Job, Genesis, and the Song of Songs. She currently serves as Associate Chair of the Department of Religious Studies and Director of UVA’s Pavilion Seminars, which are focused on big topics with enduring relevance across disciplines and are aimed at advanced third- and fourth-years.

Kurtis Schaeffer
Co-Director and Frances Myers Ball Professor, Department Chair, Religious Studies

Kurtis Schaeffer

Co-Director and Frances Myers Ball Professor, Department Chair, Religious Studies

An expert in the cultural history of Buddhism in Tibet and the author or editor of nine books, Schaeffer is interested more generally in the workings of religion in social life. He is especially interested in the ways religion moves people to action through art, literature, history, and ritual. He has directed multiple NEH summer institutes on the academic study of religion, and manages multiple collaborative digital projects. Schaeffer routinely conducts research in Tibet, Nepal, and Bhutan. He has served as Department Chair of Religious Studies, the largest such department at a public university in the US, for eight years.

Emily Gadek
Senior Producer

Emily Gadek

Senior Producer

These days, Gadek spends her time producing Sacred & Profane, the Lab’s podcast exploring the many ways religion shapes our daily lives. Previously, she was a producer for Virginia Humanities’ popular American history show, BackStory, and worked on WBEZ Chicago’s morning news show Eight Forty-Eight. In other lives, she’s been an ESL teacher, a freelance audio producer and videographer, and ran a website for a midcentury modern house museum in the deep desert of Southern California.

Ashley Duffalo
Program and Communications Manager

Ashley Duffalo

Program and Communications Manager

Before joining the Lab, Duffalo spent 13 years working at the Walker Art Center, a contemporary art museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where her various roles allowed her to develop public programs for youth, families, and adults; manage large-scale artist residencies; and oversee the graphic design studio. She also served on and chaired the board of a non-profit arts organization, Kulture Klub Collaborative, which brings together artists and homeless youth in the Twin Cities.

In The News

“Milli’s Awakening,” A Film Portrait of 8 Black German Artists Who Challenge Colonial Stereotypes

“Milli’s Awakening,” A Film Portrait of 8 Black German Artists Who Challenge Colonial Stereotypes

In partnership with the University of Virginia’s Center for German Studies and The Heinrich Böll Foundation Washington D.C., the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab is pleased to co-present a free screening of the film, Milli’s Awakening by director Natasha A. Kelly, Wednesday, April 10, 7 pm at Vinegar Hill Theatre (located at Light House Studio, 220 W. Market Street, Charlottesville). The program is part of a week-long Transatlantic Partnership on Memory & Democracy hosted by the Center for German Studies and Böll Foundation from April 8-16 at the University of Virginia. The screening will be introduced by the director and followed by a Q&A moderated by Kwame Edwin Otu, Assistant Professor at the Carter G Woodson Institute for African American and African Studies. (Printable/shareable flyer available here: Milli’s Awakening)

About the film:

In 1911, at the height of German colonialism, the renowned German artist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner painted Sleeping Milli: a portrait of a black woman lying naked on a divan. Kirchner’s painting is part of a long tradition in German expressionism in which white male artists eroticize and exoticize black women. In the film, Director Natasha A. Kelly seeks to “awaken” Milli, guiding the viewer to connect Milli’s reality to that of black female artists in Germany today. In interviews with the director, eight black German artists describe their efforts to overcome enduring colonial stereotypes and shape their own identities as black women within white German society. In the end, art reveals itself not only as the underlying architecture of the film, but also as the basis for the social and political activism of the film’s protagonists. In German with English subtitles. 2018, Germany, 45 Minutes.

About the Director

Natasha A. Kelly is a writer, curator and  scholar-activist.  Her work combines theory and practice to draw connections between art, academia and society. She is artistic director of the theater series, “May Sisters,” in honor of the Ghanaian-German poet May Ayim. Her debut film, Milli’s Awakening (Millis Erwachen), premiered at the 76th Berlin Biennale in 2018 and has since been exhibited at the Museum for Modern Art in Frankfurt. Kelly is a visiting fellow of the Transatlantic Partnership on Memory & Democracy at the University of Virginia.

“Spirit in the Dark” and the Legacy of Theologian, James Cone

“Spirit in the Dark” and the Legacy of Theologian, James Cone

On March 29 and 30, the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab hosted the Spirit in the Dark Symposium in the Rotunda’s Dome Room, in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of James Cone’s groundbreaking publication, Black Theology and Black Power. Organized by RRD Lab Partner, Professor Claudrena Harold (History and African American and African Studies), the event featured presentations by eight faculty from the University of Virginia and seven by professors from universities across the United States, who participated in a series of forums, including:

  • Black Liberation Theology: Its Past and Futures
  • The Spirituals and the Blues
  • Black Religion, Black Culture, and the Fragility of the Archives
  • Geographies of Race and Religion
  • A Blues for Aretha

Video recordings of all sessions will be shared on our forthcoming website.

Illustration: Uzo Njoku (COL ’19)

 

Now Accepting Student Research Proposals, Deadline: April 1

Now Accepting Student Research Proposals, Deadline: April 1

The RRD Lab invites all undergraduate and graduate students in UVA’s College of Arts & Sciences to join our cohort of research collaborators. Delve into the world of multi-media production to explore topics at the intersection of religion, race, and global democracy. Thanks to the generous support of the Jefferson Trust, the Lab is offering awards of $3,000 to successful undergraduate applicants and $5,000 to successful graduate applicants. To apply, send the following materials to thereligionlab@virginia.edu by April 1:

  • A project pitch, no longer than 2 pages double-spaced
  • A CV with relevant academic background
  • A brief email from faculty member stating a commitment to serve as your project advisor

Read the full CFP here.

Photo: Paige Taul ’18 and RRD Lab research collaborator

Jefferson Trust Awards RRD Lab $100,000 to Support Undergraduate Research

Jefferson Trust Awards RRD Lab $100,000 to Support Undergraduate Research

In early February, 2019 the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab was named 1 of 13 grantees to receive funding from the Jefferson Trust. The $100,000 award will fully support 20 individual undergraduate multimedia research projects on the topics of religion, race, and democracy over the course of two years. The Lab will offer undergraduate research collaborators regular training and mentorship, funding and access to technology, and an online publishing platform. Select undergraduates will be part of an established student research cohort, which until now was exclusively graduate students. The first CFP will be announced on March 1. Email thereligionlab@virginia.edu for more information. 

RRD Lab Presents Award-Winning Journalist, Lulu Miller

RRD Lab Presents Award-Winning Journalist, Lulu Miller

Lulu Miller, a Peabody-award winning journalist and the co-founder of NPR’s series Invisibilia will speak with UVA faculty and students on Feb 26 about how to turn a distant story idea into audio documentary magic. This talk is part of the RRD Lab’s effort to inspire and educate students and faculty who are interested in documentary storytelling as a research and teaching tool. More information can be found here.

UVA Grad Students Attend UnionDocs Workshop in Brooklyn

UVA Grad Students Attend UnionDocs Workshop in Brooklyn

Just before the spring 2019 semester kicked off, UVA graduate students, Meghan Hartman (Religious Studies) and Jessica Marroquín (Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese) spent three days learning about investigative documentary at UnionDocs Center for Documentary Arts, who provides an annual workshop called “Podcasting in the Humanities” at UVA (next one: May 13–15, 2019). Workshop participants were guided on how to spot and report impactful stories that are hiding in plain sight, going step-by-step through reporting, interviewing, and producing compelling documentaries. Hartman reports,

“I am the biggest fan of Union Docs. To attend their audio and video documentary workshops at UVA and at their home base in Brooklyn allowed me to feel the most intellectually generative thing: wonderment! They foster the thrill of being an amateur, and all of the questions and wonder flowing from that mind-set.”

For Marroquín what made the workshop memorable were the in-depth discussions with filmmakers—both upcoming and established—regarding pre-production, production, and post-production steps of filmmaking.

As a complete amateur in the world of filmmaking, I was able to learn from personal experiences of a diverse group of professionals in the field.” 

In the coming months Hartman and Marroquín will publish their latest research on the RRD Lab’s website, respectively on the Urdu poet Miraji and the re-emergence of the folk saint, La Santa Muerte in Mexico’s Catholic Democratic Public.

Trip to Montgomery, AL—A Transformative Experience for UVA Class

Trip to Montgomery, AL—A Transformative Experience for UVA Class

At the end of the 2018 fall semester, RRD Faculty Lab Partner, Maurice Wallace, Associate Professor of English and the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African American & African Studies traveled to Montgomery, Alabama with the 15 students in his seminar, MLK: Power, Love, Justice to visit the Equal Justice Initiative, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, and Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, where Martin Luther King’s first pastorate was located. Professor Wallace has taught the MLK seminar on several occasions, previously at Duke, where he always incorporated a sponsored class trip—once to New York for a Broadway production of Katori Hall’s play The Mountaintop and another to Atlanta University to conduct archival research at the Robert Woodruff Library. At UVA, Wallace found his class’ reading of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative to be so rich and gratifying, he felt compelled to take them to Montgomery to honor their deep investments in the course and the cause of justice. Wallace described his students as brilliant and passionate, writing that this class was “the single most memorable teaching experience I’ve had in twenty-three years of college teaching.”

“Same God” Co-Presented by RRD Lab

“Same God” Co-Presented by RRD Lab

The 2018 documentary, Same God follows Dr. Larycia Hawkins, who’s exploration of the polarization taking place within the evangelical community over issues of race, Islam, and religious freedom, ultimately led to her tenure termination at Wheaton College. RRD Lab co-director, Kurtis Schaeffer moderated a post-screening talk with Hawkins (UVA, Politics) and the director, Linda Midgett on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, as part of the Virginia Film Festival.

Halvorson-Taylor on Democracy and Citizenship Panel

Halvorson-Taylor on Democracy and Citizenship Panel

During the October 2018 inauguration festivities to welcome UVA’s incoming President, Jim Ryan, democracy and citizenship were featured topics within a panel conversation moderated by Democracy Initiative co-director, Melody Barnes. Martien Halvorson-Taylor, co-director of the RRD Lab was one of five UVA faculty to speak about the challenges facing democracies today, and the opportunities being created at the University to sustain and advance cherished democratic ideals.

Senator Tim Kaine on Faith, Spirituality, and Public Life

Senator Tim Kaine on Faith, Spirituality, and Public Life

Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) came to UVA on September 14, 2018 to discuss what role religion should play in public life and how issues of faith, morality, values, and community relate to political movements on both sides of the aisle. This clip features Larycia Hawkins, a RRD Lab Partner and faculty in the Department of Politics talking to Senator Kaine about the role religion played in shaping his decision to enter politics, and how racial representation factors into his religious and political life. Kaine and Hawkins were joined on stage by Professors David Germano, and Chuck Mathewes from the Department of Religious Studies. The event was sponsored by UVA’s Miller Center along with the Department of Religious Studies, the Virginia Center for the Study of Religion, and the Contemplative Sciences Center. A video of the entire talk is on the Miller Center’s website.

Response to Aug 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Collected Volume

Response to Aug 2017 Unite the Right Rally in Collected Volume

The recently published volume Charlottesville 2017: The Legacy of Race and Inequity, co-edited by RRD Lab faculty partner and UVA Professor, Claudrena N. Harold (with Louis P. Nelson, UVA Professor of Architecture) brings together the work of UVA faculty members catalyzed by last summer’s events to examine their community’s history more deeply and more broadly.

Get Involved

Learn about forthcoming podcast episodes, newly published projects, research opportunities, public events, and more. There’s a lot in the hopper—stay tuned for the launch of the Lab’s robust website filled with dynamic multimedia, including our first season of Sacred & Profane, coming spring 2019.