Rediscovering the New World: Behind a Big Multi-Disciplinary Give

Every now and then we come across a foundation funding a project that neatly encapsulates many of its core focus areas in one fell swoop. One such example comes to us courtesy of the Henry Luce Foundation.

The gift, to Yale University's Center for Material and Visual Cultures of Religion, supports its second project cycle,Material Economies of Religion in the Americas: Arts, Objects, Spaces, Mediations (MERA). The multi-disciplinary project is comprised of distinct elements that closely align to many of Luce's major funding initiatives across the past 24 months. But before we dig in a bit deeper, let's first look at the project from a larger thematic perspective.

MERA is an ambitious, five-year collaboration spanning the ancient Americas to the present day. Assembling a cohort of over 40 fellows and participants at all career stages, it examines the migration of people, cultures, and beliefs between Africa, Europe, and Asia to the shores of the Americas. According to MERA, "to speak of the global economies of religion is to speak of interactive, interspatial material and sensory histories."

Which brings us back to the Luce Foundation. As previously noted, the organizing principles of the MERA project map elegantly to their recent funding priorities. Take, for example, the migration of cultures from places like Asia to the Americas. Luce recently awarded a grant to the Pennsylvania-based Bethlehem's Touchstone Theatre toward the completion of its two-year, community-based project Journey from the East. The project concludes with free, large-scale, outdoor theatrical productions in April 2015 featuring American and Chinese epic mythology. Not coincidentally, the theater's surrounding region—the Lehigh Valley—has seen an influx of Chinese professionals, students, and visitors in recent years.

As we noted at the time, not only does this grant provide a valuable contribution from a curatorial perspective, it also doubles as an audience engagement mechanism geared towards the region's fast-growing Chinese population.

The Luce Foundation also funds projects that explore the role of religion in both the past and the present. As far as the latter is concerned, last year the foundation recently awarded $250,000 to USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism to pursue an effort called "Innovating Coverage of Theology."

As for the Luce-funded MERA—which also receives support from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music, Yale University, and Princeton University—co-directors Sally Promey and Emily C. Floyd have big plans. Three summer conventions in the United States and Canada, capped by a 2022 conference in Latin America, aim to create ongoing international networks around the shared intellectual work of conversation, research, writing,and curation.

In related news, check out our take on the Getty Foundation's recent support to Southern California arts institutions as part of its "Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA" program, which aims to explore the connections between Los Angeles and Latino/Latin American arts and culture.