Refuge in Words and Images: Call for Statements of Interest

As part of our 2022-23 theme, Refuge and Its Refusals, we plan to submit a Concept Note to the Luce Foundation in their Religion and Theology Program. We seek University of California faculty as well as senior staff with PI status who are interested in partnering with each other and with community organizations around religion, refuge, and resettlement in California. Luce is committed to public knowledge-making that imagines scholarship in a larger ecosystem as well as developing an expanded view of what religion is, where it is found, expressed, and experienced, and its effects in the world. 

To that end, we are developing a Concept Note provisionally entitled Refuge in Words and Images: Global Religions–California Communities. This grant will support community-based research and storytelling around refuge, sanctuary, asylum, and hospitality in world religious traditions and the actualization of those ideas in all their complexity and compromise in the lived experience of California communities. Religion has been deployed to racialize enemies and justify violence as well as to further social justice, welcome strangers, and strengthen communities. A working hypothesis of this project is that religious ideas cultivated over many centuries have the capacity to adapt to new exigencies while providing intellectual and spiritual sustenance for guests, hosts, and allies involved in the difficult work of resettlement. If you are interested in contributing to the development of a proposal, please fill out this form.

For this grant, we are envisioning a set of linked projects sited on three or more UC campuses and embedded in neighboring communities. Together, project teams (see details on composition below) will map the diverse roles played by religious concepts and practices of refuge in shaping the conflicted landscape of displacement and resettlement in California. By exploring and documenting these ideas and practices across faith divisions and racial divides, members of the project will retrieve and share tools for living that support racial justice and a more open, democratic, and equitable future. 

Project Teams and Outcomes

Three project teams, each composed of a UC faculty member, a graduate student, and a partner organization will explore the words, images, objects, stories, places, and/or rituals that have sustained a particular California locale or community. Scholars affiliated with the Scholars at Risk Network will also be encouraged to contribute and participate. Community-based outcomes will showcase the lived experience, creativity, memory work, and spiritual resources of people affected by forced migration. Each team will establish and pursue its own outcomes and will also contribute to a project-wide enterprise, “Refuge in Words and Images,” a critical thesaurus and portable archive in the form of illustrated cards featuring recipes, artwork, gardens, keywords, documentary photographs, and community stories related to refuge.

Additional Ways to Contribute

We are also seeking to develop other ways for faculty, staff and students to contribute to the critical thesaurus, “Refuge in Words and Images,” through smaller projects. Please let us know what you are working on!

Funding Details

Our aim is to fund 3 project teams over two years for a total of $40-50K per team (including a one-quarter GSRship for each team). Each budget will include a yearly stipend for community partners in addition to research funding for faculty PIs. If selected and funded by Luce, we expect campus cost-sharing of 30%, which we will help broker with the participating campus. We also hope to fund several satellite projects that supplement the work of the three project teams. At this point, we are soliciting interest to determine the possible shape and scope of the proposal; no commitment is required.

Project Statement

Many religions address the divine as a sheltering presence in the face of danger and feature exodus and sanctuary in their founding narratives. Meanwhile, ideas drawn from religious traditions continue to sustain people displaced by war and upheaval and scarred by the memory of trauma. Religion has been deployed to racialize enemies and justify violence as well as to further social justice, welcome strangers, and strengthen communities. Genocide, persecution, and forced migration often push religion into the public sphere, whether by dint of interfaith resettlement efforts, memorialization projects, or the establishment of houses of worship as centers for education and social services. Refuge itself is a complex formation that can be used to exploit, detain, or dehumanize as well as recognize and empower those who seek it. The history of California is one of genocidal and colonial violence, mass internments, and anti-immigration movements; the state has also been uniquely shaped by the creative contributions of refugees, asylum seekers, dispossessed First Peoples, and formerly enslaved Africans and their descendants seeking refuge in the American West. Religions can hinder the search for a more inclusive and democratic society; religions can also contribute to addressing what Vincent Harding called “the poverty of our public dreams.”

Suggested thematic strands

  1. Human rights, humanitarianism, and ethics of care (multiple genealogies)
  2. Foodways and festivals (recipes as refuge)
  3. Sacred spaces (temples and churches; remembering historic sites of refuge)
  4. Monuments and memorials (who gets to remember? What is remembered?)
  5. Environmental and indigenous knowledge (human and non-human refuge; gardens and gardening)
  6. Language as refuge (storytelling; sacred languages; endangered languages; language reclamation)
  7. Art and refuge (performing refuge; art, crafts, photography; museums and archives as sites of refuge and plunder; repatriation of objects)
  8. If you are interested in contributing to the Concept Note, please fill out this form

Photo by Enache Georgiana on Unsplash.