Henry Luce Foundation awards $1 million grant to Morgan’s Center for Religion and Cities

Center for Religion and Cities at Morgan State University

The initiative centers deep listening practices for improving community engaged work by universities and museums

BALTIMORE — In a continuation of its support for community-based engagement and grassroots efficacy, the Henry Luce Foundation has awarded Morgan State University’s (MSU) Center for Religion and Cities (CRC) a $1-million grant. The funding will be used to support Lifeways of Hope, an initiative centered on deep listening and collaborative practices for advancing the quality of life in cities, especially for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) communities who are too often excluded from planning processes by cultural and research institutions. This marks the fourth grant CRC has received from the Foundation, bringing the total support to date, to nearly $2 million.

Lifeways of Hope was developed collaboratively by Harold D. Morales, Ph.D., director of the CRC; Amy Landau, Ph.D., director of Education and Interpretation for the UCLA Fowler Museum; and Rupa Pillai, Ph.D. senior lecturer of Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with input and support from numerous community partners, the CRC collective, and Morgan students and staff.

“My parents left Central America for Los Angeles to look for a better life,” said Dr. Morales, “But it often ended up being a life of scarcity and creativity – having to find our own ways to survive. And though it can be hard at times to dream of a heaven on earth, listening carefully and caringly to communities in Baltimore and beyond has helped me to grasp the abundance that’s also been a part of our journey. I am grateful for continued support from our communities, from Morgan, and the Henry Luce Foundation while on this journey of growth. I’m excited about the work this grant will make possible, lifegiving work that asks us to slow down, listen, and learn from each other. To not only engage the City’s wounds, but to center our desire for and presence of an abundant love.”

The grant will support the Center’s development of three collaborative-learning initiatives: a Listening Lab, Museum Co-Lab, and Curricula Lab. The aim is to inspire critical and creative dismantlings of unjust physical and social infrastructures by encouraging deep listening, collaborative work, and other practices or lifeways of hope.

The Listening Lab will be used to collect, analyze, and grow deep listening models, which will be leveraged throughout training, workshops, and experiential retreats, to improve collaborations between community organizations, universities, and museums. Lessons learned from the Listening Lab will be applied in the work of the Museum Co-Lab and Curricular Lab to encourage and support healthier approaches to public knowledge production and sharing within cultural and educational institutions. This high-impact and vital work will be carried out in cities across the country where CRC has existing partners, including Baltimore and Los Angeles. All three labs will draw upon experiences and relationships from the CRC’s first four years of existence, will connect with the Center’s other initiatives including the Black Queer Everything directed by Dr. Anika Simpson, and are accepting applications for fellowships to start in the Fall – click here to find out more and apply for the fellowship positions.

“Our prevailing public discourse about religion is too often shrill, polarized, acrimonious and inhumane,” said Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Program Director at the Henry Luce Foundation. “Through its collaborative, community-based work—and under the creative leadership of Dr. Harold Morales—Morgan State University’s Center for Religion and Cities is building an alternative approach to religion’s public presence, rooted in an understanding of religion as a dynamic element of city ecologies, with the potential to shape how urban contexts change and thrive. Convening and engaging diverse participants—from academic researchers and museum curators to community activists and spiritual leaders—the Center’s latest initiative will catalyze fresh thinking, cultivate new partnerships, and deepen its support for a wide range of underrepresented knowledge makers. We are delighted to have the opportunity to provide ongoing support for the Center’s important and innovative work.” 

Through the generous and continued support from the Henry Luce Foundation over the past several years, CRC has expanded its critical community-based work and further cemented its ties to Baltimore’s diverse communities. In June 2020, a few months after the start of the pandemic, CRC was awarded $150,000 from the Foundation to address COVID-19-related needs through Relief and Restoration Work that provided support for direct aid while also documenting how marginalized communities were impacted by the pandemic and how they responded to the crisis. The Center’s Art, Religion and Cities initiative produced a collaborative exhibit based on the relief and restoration work titled: Betting on Hope. In 2021, CRC was awarded an additional $250,000 to support the Good Life Project—a community-based effort to collectively dream of, document, reflect on, and work to bring about healthier post-pandemic futures.

Morgan launched the Center for Religion and Cities in 2018 with a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation with a focus on Baltimore, its religious communities, and its most pressing social justice issues. The Center also receives annual support from the Morgan’s endowment fund boosted by a generous gift from Mackenzie Scott in December of 2020. Housed within the James H. Gilliam, Jr. College of Liberal Arts‘ Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, CRC’s mission is to bring together community partners, academics, and students to collaboratively learn about unjust structures in our cities and to support and grow innovative solutions to more equitable futures.

About Morgan

Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified high research (R2) institution offering more than 140 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, and the only university to have its entire campus designated as a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit www.morgan.edu.


Harold Morales
Center for Religion and Cities at Morgan State University
[email protected]

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Religion News Service or Religion News Foundation.

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