Exploration of Religion and National Security, Personhood and Technology

October 11, 2017

7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 25 & 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct 26

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.

Gates Lecture

Religion and National Security: Islam, racialization and the politics of counterterrorism

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 Joe Rosenfield '25 Center, Room 101.

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."

Scholars' Convocation

Personhood and the Humanities in the Age of Intelligent Machines

Johnson also will speak as part of the Scholars' Convocation series at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 26, in Rosenfield Center, Room 101.

"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."

Sylvester A. Johnson

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.