“Racial States, Civil Religion, and the Future of American Democracy”
Sylvester Johnson (Virginia Tech University)
Sylvester A. Johnson is Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and Executive Director of the “Tech for Humanity” initiative at Virginia Tech. He is the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Humanities, which is supporting human-centered research and humanistic approaches to the guidance of technology. Johnson’s research has examined religion, race, and empire in the Atlantic world; religion and sexuality; national security practices; and the impact of intelligent machines and human enhancement on human identity and race governance. In addition to co-facilitating a national working group on religion and US empire, Johnson led an Artificial Intelligence project that developed a successful proof-of-concept machine learning application to ingest and analyze a humanities text. He is the author of The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity (Palgrave 2004), a study of race and religious hatred that won the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book award; and African American Religions, 1500-2000 (Cambridge 2015), an award-winning interpretation of five centuries of democracy, colonialism, and freedom in the Atlantic world. Johnson has also co-edited The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11 (University of California 2017); and Religion and US Empire: Critical New Histories (NYU Press 2022). He is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions. He is currently producing a digital scholarly edition of an early English history of global religions and writing a book on human identity in an age of intelligent machines and human-machine symbiosis.