ATLANTA — A religious studies scholar at Georgia State University has received a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation to develop digital and physical archives to highlight Black women religious leaders’ contributions to religious communities and activism in the United States.
Monique Moultrie, associate professor of religious studies at Georgia State, and Rosetta Ross, professor of religious studies at Spelman College, are co-principal investigators on the three-year project, which kicks off in January.
The project, named The Garden Initiative for Black Women’s Religious Activism, will also include an intergenerational mentorship program, an oral history project, an international scholarly conference and a special journal issue. The Luce Foundation has granted $250,000 for the effort to advance public understanding of race, justice and religion.
Moultrie noted that the overwhelming majority of scholarly and popular attention to Black religious leaders, especially the influence of religious leaders in the civil rights movement, has focused on male leadership.
“Our goal is to expand knowledge about Black women’s religious leadership by collecting existing data and producing new knowledge to reveal Black women’s important contributions to religious thought and activism,” Moultrie said.
“The Garden Initiative recovers their role as agents in pursuing democracy and full citizenship in spite of racial injustice. By cataloging the ways religion has served as a resource for women’s participation in social movements, The Garden presents a more complete picture of activism existing outside of traditional male leadership models.”
The project takes its name from Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mother's Gardens,” a collection of essays and other pieces that advance the term “womanist” as “a black feminist or feminist of color.”
One of the goals of the project is to equip contemporary religious institutions, academic researchers and social justice activists with a repository of knowledge useful for sustaining social change.
The project’s research team will record oral histories to preserve stories of some first-generation, credentialed Black women within Christian denominations and will catalog work of predecessors and successors. Researchers will also gather documents and firsthand accounts from Black women leaders in African diasporic religions, Buddhism, Islam and Judaism.
The website and physical archive, which will be housed at the Atlanta University Center’s Woodruff Library, will be open and accessible to the public.
Moultrie said it’s fitting that Atlanta, with its historical ties to civil and human rights activism and local religious and academic institutions striving for a just and equitable future, will be the home for The Garden Initiative.
“Given our goal of offering resources to activists and leaders, Atlanta is an ideal setting for connecting to a legacy of Black women’s organizing,” Moultrie said.
“At The Garden, we will unite Black women with past activists, provide mentorship for current leaders and present a historical lineage for future scholars, activists and religious communities who want to participate in the Black freedom struggle.”
The Henry Luce Foundation seeks to enrich public discourse by promoting innovative scholarship, cultivating new leaders and fostering international understanding. Established in 1936 by Henry R. Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., the Luce Foundation advances its mission through grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art and public policy.