“The world can learn from Charlottesville, but what can we learn about the world through Charlottesville? What can scholars contribute to the public’s understanding of American religions by examining the confluence of religion, race, and democracy in their own localities?”
A novel collaboration between the University of Virginia’s Religion, Race & Democracy Lab and the Memory Project, that will advance public knowledge on the topic of race, justice, and religion in America, and also shape the field of the study of American religion, has received $250,000 from the Henry Luce Foundation.
The Religion, Race & Democracy Lab and the Memory Project, affiliates of the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences’ Democracy Initiative, will collectively lead the project, called “Learning with Charlottesville: Local and National Narratives of American Religions, Race, and Democracy,” with Professors Martien Halvorson-Taylor and Kurtis Schaeffer, co-directors of the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab, and Professor Jalane Schmidt, director of the Memory Project, steering the effort.
All three project leaders are tenured members of UVA’s Department of Religious Studies, which is the largest at any public university in North America, and a national and international leader in its exploration of the role, and lived reality, of religion in public life. Professors Schaeffer and Halvorson-Taylor will be the co-principal investigators for the project and Professor Schmidt will be the co-director of the project’s summer institute.
The Henry Luce Foundation grant will support a new initiative that will bring emerging and mid-career scholars of religious studies from across the US and UVA to collaborate with local scholars, artists, and journalists, for a week-long summer institute in Charlottesville in June of 2022. The institute will use lessons from Charlottesville, where religions, racial division, and politics echo national dynamics, as a case study to prepare religious studies scholars to bring their scholarship to bear on the intersection of religion, race, and democracy in their own communities.
The 2017 “summer of hate” in Charlottesville, as with the storming of the US Capitol in early 2021, reveal how religion and race play a persistent role in issues of white supremacy, racism, antisemitism, and anti-democratic movements. “The world can learn from Charlottesville,” wrote Professors Halvorson-Taylor, Schaeffer, and Schmidt in their proposal to the Henry Luce Foundation, “but what can we learn about the world through Charlottesville? What can scholars contribute to the public’s understanding of American religions by examining the confluence of religion, race, and democracy in their own localities?”
The project’s goals are to 1) deepen research into the interrelationships of religion, race, and democracy in the US; 2) to convene religious studies scholars, artists, and media practitioners, and train academics to be engaged as public intellectuals; and 3) to create with the cohort a range of public-facing and well-researched short-form audio pieces on religion, race, and democracy in the US. Audio production, as the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab’s work on the podcast Sacred & Profane has proven, offers an opportunity to make scholarship public in ways that extend beyond the typical venues for scholarly writing.
Nine additional UVA faculty, across religious studies, history, politics, music, and art, three guest speakers in the fields of journalism, public history, and art history, and two audio producers, will inspire and instruct the summer institute participants who want to rethink “American religions” through the lens of race, democracy, religion, and place. The list of collaborators, in alphabetical order, includes:
- Niya Bates, PhD Candidate in History, Princeton University and former director of Monticello’s Getting Word African American Oral History Project
- Jamelle Bouie, New York Times opinion columnist and political analyst for CBS News
- Federico Cuatlacuatl, artist and Assistant Professor, Studio Art
- Andrea Douglas, PhD, Art History and Executive Director, Jefferson School African American Heritage Center
- Kevin Everson, artist/filmmaker and Professor, Studio Art
- Emily Gadek, senior producer, Religion, Race & Democracy Lab
- Bonnie Gordon, Associate Professor, Critical & Comparative Studies, Music
- Kelly Hardcastle Jones, freelance producer and editor, Religion, Race & Democracy Lab
- Claudrena Harold, Professor and Chair, African American and African Studies and History
- Larycia Hawkins, activist and Assistant Professor, Politics and Religious Studies
- John Mason, Associate Professor, History and Co-Director, Holsinger Portrait Project
- Charles Mathewes, Professor, Religious Studies
- Kai Parker, Assistant Professor, African American Religious History
- Kirt von Daacke, Assistant Dean and Professor, History
A significant portion of participants’ time in Charlottesville will be spent visiting local sites and symbols of historical importance, like the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Charlottesville and Albemarle County Courthouse Historic District, and UVA Grounds, to better understand how memory, race, religion, and democracy are presented and contested in public spaces. In the days prior to the summer institute, UnionDocs Center for Documentary Art will host a three-day virtual workshop on the basics of audio production, and, in the months to follow, cohort members will receive support from the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab’s co-directors, senior producer, and editor as they develop an audio documentary. The ultimate goal of the project is to reshape scholars and their scholarship, with a key outcome being the publication of a range of public-facing, well-researched, and analytically trenchant short-form audio pieces on religion, race, and democracy in the US, that will live on the Lab’s website.
“Learning with Charlottesville: Local and National Narratives of American Religions, Race, and Democracy” builds upon the uniquely compatible aims and scholarship of the Memory Project and the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab, who have forged a productive collaborative relationship. This has yielded in episodes of Sacred & Profane about the role of white Christianity in the ongoing memorialization of the Confederacy, as well as in public events, like a talk with religious activists reflecting on the legacy of August 2017 in their work. Through this project, Professors Halvorson-Taylor, Schaeffer, and Schmidt, hope to prepare a new generation of scholars of religion; formalize relationships with a national cohort of scholars, artists, and journalists; and produce public scholarship to address urgent issues in the field.
The Religion, Race & Democracy Lab and Memory Project will solicit participants through a nationwide call for proposals, to be released in early 2022. Any inquiries related to the project can be emailed to Ashley Duffalo, Lab Manager for the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab.
(Top image: Jalane Schmidt giving a public walking tour of Charlottesville’s historic Court Square, stops to address the former monument to Stonewall Jackson. Photo: Mike Kropf)
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