Lilly Endowment Grants $2.1 Million to U.Va.'s Project on Lived Theology

December 09, 2008

December 10, 2008 — The University of Virginia's Project on Lived Theology has been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment to fund the project's operations for another five years, from 2010 through 2014. This is the Lilly Endowment's fourth major grant to the project, a long-term theological research program exploring the relation between Christian spiritual beliefs and social practice.

Three previous Lilly grants, totaling more than $2.5 million, funded operations from 2000 through 2009. Including the new grant, Lilly has provided the project a total of $4.6 million covering 14 years.

"The Project on Lived Theology is breaking new ground in encouraging theologians and religion scholars to attend more intentionally to the everyday experiences of ordinary Christians," said Craig Dykstra, senior vice president for religion at Lilly. "This theological work is pivotal in helping individuals and communities understand and claim the practices that carry forward the deep wisdom of the Christian tradition."

Charles Marsh, project director and religious studies professor, said he was honored by the generosity of the grant and the endowment's commitment to the project.

"I am confident that their investment in our work will encourage a generation of young scholars to use their talents and skills in building more just and humane communities," he said.

Expressing the University's gratitude, U.Va. President John T. Casteen III said, "Charles Marsh and his colleagues do important work to foster the growth and maturation of young theologians and scholars of religion."

The Project on Lived Theology seeks to forge a closer connection between the study of theology and the experiences of people and groups who are putting their beliefs into action. The project is based on the rationale that "the living energy of faith-shaped communities is a promising and untapped source for theological inquiry," Marsh said.

To that end, the project regularly brings together students and religion scholars to collaborate with practitioners and activists. The meetings are often held in the places where activist groups work; past locations have included community centers in East Los Angeles, Atlanta, Baltimore and Harlem. More than 400 people have participated in such programs since the project's founding in 2000.

"The project has tapped into a national hunger for opportunities to bridge the gap between classroom and faith communities, and create spaces to bring together practitioners and academics," Marsh said. "On the University side, there is a hunger to make a difference and be a part of promoting the common good. On the practitioners' side, there is a hunger to have these conversations and put their work in the trenches everyday in a larger historical and theological perspective."

In addition to directing the Project on Lived Theology, Marsh is writing a biography of theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, under contract with Knopf.

The Lilly Endowment is an Indianapolis-based philanthropic foundation that supports education, religion and community development.

— By Brevy Cannon