IU Bloomington scholars receive $1 million to study all that makes us human

Henry Luce Foundation grant to support 'Being Human' project, other research and outreach initiatives

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- What does it mean to be human? It's an age-old question, made newly urgent by advances in technology, artificial intelligence, and fast-moving social and political change.

Funded with a $1 million grant from the Henry Luce Foundation and led by three scholars in the Department of Religious Studies at Indiana University Bloomington, the "Being Human" project will study what makes us human -- from the terrible to the playful, in different places and times, in areas from imaginative arts to empirical sciences.

The grant is funded through the Luce Foundation's Theology Program. IU is one of only a small number of research institutions to receive $1 million grants through this program.

The question of being human is, among other things, a religious question, said professor Constance Furey, co-recipient of the grant.

"Because theology and religion are inspired as much by what we don't know as what we do, they enable the sort of open-minded thinking we urgently need right now, about what it means to be a human living on and with the Earth," said Furey, chair of the Department of Religious Studies.

In conjunction with the five-year grant, and with additional support from the College of Arts and Sciences and a $500,000 commitment from the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, a new IU Bloomington Center for Religion and the Human will host the "Being Human" project as well as other research and outreach initiatives. Furey, Lisa Sideris and Winnifred Sullivan are leading the grant, and Sullivan will serve as the center's first director.

"Together, the new center and the 'Being Human' grant will enable and support innovative, interdisciplinary and cross-cultural scholarship on religion for the benefit of researchers and students at IU Bloomington as well for those studying religion in institutions throughout the country and beyond," said Sullivan, professor of religious studies and an affiliate professor at IU Bloomington's Maurer School of Law.

The grant will involve IU Bloomington scholars from the departments of English, anthropology, history and biology, as well as The Media School, the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies, and the Integrated Program in the Environment. The grant's initiatives include:

  • Religion, Science and Technology, looking at how science and technology, as forces shaping and shaped by religion, are impacting humanity and nature.
  • American Religion, broadening the conversation about religion in the Americas to include emerging and often marginalized scholarship, through creation of a new journal, a digital platform and various public events.
  • Teaching Religion in Public, featuring collaborative meetings between faculty, students and people teaching religion in public settings outside the university such as high schools and nonprofit organizations.
  • Emerging Scholars Program, a series of four summer institutes for multidisciplinary scholars from across the United States working on religion.

"Our aim is to provide material and intellectual support for innovative scholarship, cultivate the next generation of thinkers and demonstrate that scholarly conversations can inspire and sustain multiple forms of public engagement," said Sideris, professor of religious studies, who will serve as associate director of the Center for Religion and the Human and oversee the Religion, Science and Technology programming.

The grant fits well with the Bloomington campus's historic strengths in humanistic areas, said Rick Van Kooten, vice provost for research.

"With the awarding of this grant for the 'Being Human' project and new center, IU Bloomington will become a center for inquiry into the question of being human in ways that expand both scholarly and public participation," he said. "With the urgent need for better understandings of religion in the world today, I'm very pleased that these new research and teaching initiatives and center will be moving forward."

This grant counts toward the $3 billion For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign.

About For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign

For All: The Indiana University Bicentennial Campaign, is taking place on all IU-administered campuses including IU Bloomington, IUPUI, IU East, IU Kokomo, IU Northwest, IU South Bend and IU Southeast. The campaign will conclude in June 2020 to coincide with IU's bicentennial year celebration. To learn more about the campaign, its impact and how to participate, visit forall.iu.edu.

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