Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2017 1:46 pm

Sylvester A. Johnson, assistant vice provost for the humanities at Virginia Tech and professor and director of Virginia Tech's Center for the Humanities, will give two public lectures at Grinnell College in late October.

While on campus as the annual Gates Scholar in the Department of Religious Studies, Johnson will present the Gates Lecture at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25, in room 101 of the Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, 1115 Eighth Ave., Grinnell. The lecture is titled "Religion and National Security: Islam, Racialization and the Politics of Counterterrorism."

Associate Professor Caleb Elfenbein, a member of the Department of Religious Studies who is helping to host Johnson, says "This lecture will speak to pressing concerns in contemporary life. Questions around both race and counterterrorism are so present in our public life, and we are fortunate to have someone who can bring them together and think about how they relate to one another."

Johnson also will speak as part of the Scholars' Convocation series on Thursday, Oct. 26. His lecture, titled "Personhood and the Humanities in the Age of Intelligent Machines," will begin at 11 a.m. in room 101 of the Rosenfield Center.

"Technology has become part of virtually every aspect of our everyday lives, touching almost every moment of our days," Elfenbein adds. "Professor Johnson’s talk will push us to think about how this might be affecting us as people. The humanities can be such an important resource in thinking about how we apply scientific and technological knowledge in our world."

Johnson's research has examined religion, race and empire; religion and sexuality; national security paradigms; and the impact of intelligent machines and cybernetic enhancement on human-machine futures. He completed his Ph.D. at Union Theological Seminary, where he studied race and religion with James H. Cone, who is considered the founder of black liberation theology.

Before joining the faculty at Virginia Tech, Johnson taught at Florida A&M University, Indiana University-Bloomington and Northwestern University. His first book, "The Myth of Ham in 19th Century American Christianity: Race, Heathens and the People of God," is an award-winning study of race, Christianization and religious hatred.

Johnson is writing a study of artificial intelligence and human-machine hybridization and producing a digital scholarly edition of an early English history of global religions. He also co-edited "The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11," published this year by the University of California Press.

Grinnell College welcomes the participation of people with disabilities. Room 101 in the Rosenfield Center is equipped with an induction hearing loop system, which enables individuals with hearing aids set to T-Coil to hear the program. Information about parking and accessibility is available on the college's website: Accommodation requests may be made to Conference Operations at 641-269-3235 or calendar[at]grinnell[dot]edu.

The college also welcomes the presence of minors at all age-appropriate public events and for informal visits, with the understanding that a parent, legal guardian, or other responsible adult assumes full responsibility for their child's safety and behavior during such visits or events. In these cases, the college expects that an adult responsible for the visiting child takes measures to ensure the child's safety and sees that the child complies with directions of college personnel. Grinnell College is not responsible for supervision of minors on campus.

About Grinnell College

Since its founding in 1846, Grinnell has become one of the nation's premier liberal arts colleges, enrolling 1,600 students from all 50 states and from as many countries. Grinnell's rigorous academic program emphasizes excellence in education for students in the liberal arts; the college offers the B.A. degree in a range of departments across the humanities, arts and sciences. Grinnell has a strong tradition of social responsibility and action, and self-governance and personal responsibility are key components of campus life. More information about Grinnell College is available at