Henry Luce Foundation: Grants for Higher Education

OVERVIEW: The Luce Foundation has several programs that qualify higher education institutions for humanities funding, particularly its focus areas in American Art, Asia, and Religion in International Affairs. Higher ed funding is also available through other programs.

IP TAKE: The Luce Foundation is pretty accessible, but it's also well-known and established, so the competition here is likely to be stiff. Call or email the relevant program director before sending in your LOI.

PROFILE: The Luce Foundation was started in 1936 by Time magazine co-founder Henry R. Luce, and “seeks to bring important ideas to the center of American life, strengthen international understanding, and foster innovation and leadership in academic, policy, religious and art communities.”

University fundraisers exploring Luce Foundation grants should understand the lay of the land. There are many programs with diverse goals and missions at Luce, and colleges and universities have fared particularly well at the foundation. 

Here’s a brief overview of three of the most common grant programs for scholar and postsecondary institutions.

Luce’s American Art program supports exhibitions, research and publications on the subject. The foundation says a main focus is “scholarly study of painting, sculpture, prints, drawings, decorative arts, photography, and architecture.” In the past, universities have received Luce funding for exhibitions at campus museums, and scholars have received support for dissertation research. The emphasis here is on the visual arts; programs excluded from support include film or broadcast media as well as those “that are predominantly historical, social, documentary, technological, or that concern private collections.”

The foundation’s Asia program has a two-pronged strategy: supporting “cultural and intellectual exchange between the United States and the countries of East and Southeast Asia,” and “creating scholarly and public resources for improved understanding of Asia in the United States.” Occasional funding is also available to “respond to needs...identified by scholars and institutions” for scholarly programs and projects "concerning the countries and cultures of Northeast and Southeast Asia,” as well as through special initiatives. 

The Religion in International Affairs program has consistently focused on colleges and universities (along with media and policy groups), with a mission to “deepen understanding of religion as a critical but often neglected dimension of national and international policies and politics.” Grants here have supported conferences at colleges that align with that mission. Research that is international and collaborative, multidisciplinary, and/or comparative is also supported.

Next is the foundation's theology program, which offers "grants to seminaries, divinity schools, and research universities." Through this funding, the foundation states that it seeks to "advance understanding of religion and theology" and that it "supports the work of scholars, cultivates the next generation of leaders, and promotes public engagement." Grantseekers should demonstrate the ability to rethink theology for a modern context, question "common assumptions" related to the subject, and engage in multidisciplinary research.

These three programs aren’t the only options for university fundraisers. For instance, Luce’s Higher Education program supports projects that fall outside of their core funding areas. This leaves room for a lot of different projects, but it’s not a major focus and only a select number of grants are awarded each year.  

Beyond the humanities and the arts, there are a few other programs at the foundation that also support colleges, universities, and individual scholars. For instance, the Clare Booth Luce program supports women scholars in STEM fields. Similarly, the Luce Scholars program provides “young leaders” who have an interest in Asia but little to no experience in the region with “stipends, language training, and individualized professional placement in Asia."

For those seeking more information about specific grantees, the foundation unfortunately does not host a database for researching funded projects. Your best bet is to review award announcements, which can often be found on its grant announcements page.

In terms of your application, the foundation states that “prospective grantees often begin the process with an email or phone call to the director of the appropriate program.” The program director may then request a letter of inquiry, which can be submitted year-round for the Asia, Higher Education, International Affairs, and Theology programs (note that the Clare Booth Luce, Luce Scholars, and American Art programs have unique application processes and deadlines). A follow-up is suggested if you have not received a response six weeks after sending in your LOI, which will be reviewed to determine whether you will be invited to submit a full proposal.

Awards under $50,000 are decided by the foundation’s president after review and recommendation by the program director and a “panel of outside experts. Grants above that amount are recommended by the program director to the president and the Board, the latter being responsible for making the final decision. 

SELECT PEOPLE

  • Dr. Teresa A. Carbone, Program Director, American Art
  • Helena Kolenda, Program Director, Asia Program
  • Sean Billington, Higher Education

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