The Henry Luce Foundation’s Theology Program has awarded $500,000 to the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities to support “Future Humans, Human Futures,” a project on religion, ethics, and technology that tackles fundamental questions of what it means to be human in a technological age.

The grant includes $20,000 to support immigrant farm laborers through English-as-a-second-language conversations, as an effort to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on essential workers.

 This generous grant from the Luce Foundation will make possible a three-year project that will include summer research institutes enabling researchers in religion and theology to engage with experts in technology and innovation domains such as artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, and cybernetics (combining humans with machines). Participants in the summer institutes, who will be funded by Luce, will learn how technology is impacting a complex world and will advance their scholarship in light of the growing need for human-centered guidance. The project seeks to deepen the diversity and inclusion of underrepresented populations whose insights and participation are essential to shaping the role of technology for public good and public interest.

The support from the Luce Foundation will also make possible a timely partnership between the Center for Humanities and Do Good X, an accelerator designed for early-stage social entrepreneurs who are passionate about developing businesses that do good in the world. Do Good X will help lead summer institute workshops and will collaborate with Virginia Tech to produce public summits that engage a broad audience in fostering the ethical guidance of technology.

“We are pleased to support this important new project at Virginia Tech’s Center for Humanities,” said Luce Foundation Program Director Jonathan VanAntwerpen. “Emphasizing the inclusion of scholars from underrepresented groups, and seeking to move beyond traditional academic boundaries, the project will establish new directions in humanistic engagement with emerging technology by examining what it means to be human in a technological age. Research encouraged and amplified through the project’s work will focus in particular on the role of technology in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, including attention to data, security and surveillance, and to the impact of technology on religious communities during the pandemic.”

Sylvester Johnson, who directs the Center for Humanities, is principal investigator for the project. He also serves as executive director of Tech for Humanity, a university-wide initiative focused on human-centered approaches to technology and innovation. Johnson will coordinate this three-year, Luce-funded project to promote new directions in research by national and global humanities scholars with expertise in theology and religion.

“We are very excited for this unique opportunity to partner with The Henry Luce Foundation to advance research in religion, theology, and technology ethics,” Johnson said. “The human-centered challenges that technology is raising require new directions and greater inclusivity in the scholarship addressing difficult questions about technology’s public impact. Luce’s bold and game-changing generosity to support this effort is something we should all celebrate.”

The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders, and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time, Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy.