Category Archives: News

Call for Proposals: Joint Projects & Faculty Working Groups


The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life is now seeking proposals from Columbia University faculty for both working groups and programs that aim to understand the role of religion in the contemporary world and its historical roots. Proposals for faculty working groups as well as seminars, conferences, events, research and other joint projects that bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars are welcome.

Typically, working groups can apply for up to $1,500 per semester and joint projects may apply for up to $25,000, with funds awarded based on activities proposed.

The deadline for working group applications for the Spring 2017 semester is Tuesday, November 8th.  Proposals will be reviewed by the Institute and results will be announced by Tuesday, November 15th.

Full details are available at


Josef Sorett’s “Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics” Just Released

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Josef Sorett, Associate Professor of Religion and African-American Studies and Director of the Center on African-American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS), has just released his first book, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics through Oxford University Press.  Spirit in the Dark offers an account of the ways in which religion, especially Afro-Protestantism, remained pivotal to the ideas and aspirations of African American literature across much of the twentieth century.

Professor Sorett is currently at work on his second book, tentatively titled The Holy Holy Black: The Ironies of an African American Secular, which is also in contract with Oxford UP, and is additionally editing an anthology, The Sexual Politics of Black Churches.


Katherine Pratt-Ewing and Alexander Stille Awarded Grant from American Council of Learned Societies


Katherine Pratt Ewing, Director of the IRCPL, and Alexander Stille, San Paolo Professor of International Journalism, are among the first grantees in a new program from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS), the Luce / ACLS Program in Religion, Journalism & International Affairs (RJIA), supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, aimed at pursuing programming that connects scholarship on religion to journalism training and practice.

Professors Ewing and Stille won the grant for “Sufis, Salafis, and the Public Square,” a project which brings together scholars of religious studies and experienced journalists to examine the relationships between authoritarian regimes and Salafist movements in countries where Sufism is being crowded out by heavily funded forms of Salafism and other forms of anti-Sufi Islam. Their research team will produce a database of oral histories of Sunni Muslims and government representatives as well as pieces of long-form journalism and scholarly articles that draw on the project’s ethnographic research.

RJIA grants provide support to universities with strengths in the study of religion, journalism, and media to pursue programming that connects scholarship on religion to journalism training and practice.  More information on “Sufis, Salafis, and the Public Square,” as well as the other grantees, at

Katherine Pratt-Ewing Named IRCPL Interim Director for 2016-17


The Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life is thrilled to announce that Katherine Pratt-Ewing, Professor in the Department of Religion and the South Asia Institute and Coordinator of the Master of Arts Program in the South Asia Institute, will be the Interim Director for the 2016-17 academic year.

Professor Ewing has led the Center for the Study of Religion and Sexuality since its inception in 2013.  The Center, affiliated with Columbia’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality and the Barnard Center for Research on Women in addition to the IRCPL, aims to provide forums and resources for the interdisciplinary study of the rapidly evolving and often troubled intersections of religion and sexuality across the world.

Professor Ewing was also a project leader for the Sufi Islam in 21st Century Politics project at IRCPL, with Mamadou Diouf and Souleymane Bachir Diagne.  Through this project, she organized the fall 2015 conference “Sufism in India and Pakistan: Rethinking Islam, Democracy, and Identity,” and is editor of a volume that came from the work at this conference, titled Modern Sufis and the Shadow of the State (forthcoming).

Until 2010, Professor Ewing was Professor of Cultural Anthropology and Religion at Duke University, where she served as the Executive Director of the North Carolina Consortium for South Asian Studies. In 2010-2011 she was Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin – Madison before moving to Columbia’s Religion Department in 2011. Her research ranges from debates among Muslims about the proper practice of Islam in the modern world to sexualities, gender, and the body in South Asia. She has done ethnographic fieldwork in Pakistan, Turkey and India, and among Muslims in Germany, The Netherlands, and the United States.

Professor Ewing received her PhD in Anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1980 and took postdoctoral training at the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis. She has received numerous awards and honors, including the L. Bryce Boyer Prize of the Society for Psychological Anthropology (1990), a Berlin Prize Fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin (1999), a Mellon-Sawyer Seminar grant (2000-2002), and a Residential Fellowship as Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation (2006-7). Her books include Arguing Sainthood: Modernity, Psychoanalysis and Islam (1997), Stolen Honor: Stigmatizing Muslim Men in Berlin (2008), and the edited volumes Shariat and Ambiguity in South Asian Islam (1988) and Being and Belonging: Muslim Communities in the US since 9/11 (2008).

The Institute is fortunate to welcome Professor Ewing to the position, and we look forward to the new projects, research, goals, and opportunities which her leadership will provide.

Karen Barkey Steps Down as IRCPL Director

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Karen Barkey, Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life since 2012, has stepped down from the position as of the end of June, 2016.  Professor Barkey was a member of the board of IRCPL since its founding, and became the Co-Director, with Alfred Stepan, in 2011.  In 2012, she assumed the title of full Director.  She joins the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society at the University of California Berkeley, where she has been appointed the Haas Distinguished Chair of Religious Diversity and Professor in the Department of Sociology.

In her years at the Institute, she developed the pre-existing scholars and researchers programs to accommodate fourteen visiting scholars in 2016 – increased from four in the past – featuring a breadth of research topics ranging from the intellectual history of Islam to Judaism in Latin America, and from comparative labor unionizing to NYPD surveillance of Muslim communities.

During her tenure, IRCPL also significantly increased the quantity of publications at Columbia University Press, with nineteen books in total published over the past three years in the Religion, Culture, and Public Life series.  At the same time, she led the Arabic Translation Project, publishing seven Arabic translations of English-language books on democracy and case studies on democratic transitions for distribution throughout the Middle East and North Africa, in both print and digital form, with an eighth translation forthcoming this year.

She was the lead, with Professor Stepan, on the Religion Toleration and Plural Democracies projects.  Sub-projects such as Sufi Islam in the 21st century, Democracy and Religious Pluralism, and Shared Sacred Sites have engaged different networks of scholars from around the world, creating new synergies for scholarly and policy-focused research and rethinking. These projects, which have now developed into fully-fledged research initiatives, are continuing under the auspices of various global academic and political institutions and research centers.

The Institute thanks Professor Barkey for her leadership and the lasting contributions she has made.  We hope to honor her legacy by continuing her work and beginning new projects with the intellectual curiosity, personal and professional generosity, and drive to expand and improve the Institute that were her hallmarks.  We wish her the very best in her new position at the University of California, Berkeley.