Jonathan VanAntwerpen is the co-editor of a number of publications on religion, secularism, and the public realm as well as the creator of The Immanent Frame, a ground-breaking online journal that publishes original work by thousands of esteemed academics.
Program director, editor, and author Jonathan VanAntwerpen. He has a background in philosophy before earning his doctorate in sociology at the University of California, Berkeley.
Jonathan is currently in charge of the Religion and Theology Program at the Henry Luce Foundation. Under Jonathan’s direction, this grantmaking programme aims to advance public knowledge, expand and diversify critical intellectual engagement with religious ideas and spiritual practises in the United States and abroad, and foster innovative thinking about religion across various social and cultural contexts. For additional information on this endeavour, go to the Foundation’s website.
Jonathan worked at the Social Science Research Council for a decade before joining the Luce Foundation in 2014. (SSRC). He launched a series of experimental digital publishing platforms, served as acting head of communications, helped to incubate a new project on knowledge and culture in the digital age, and organised and convened a wide range of academic and public events while at the SSRC.
Jonathan developed and oversaw a number of programmes that were supported by funds from the Ford Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Henry Luce Foundation while serving as the founding director of the SSRC’s Religion and the Public Sphere Program. One of the four initial funds authorised in conjunction with the start of the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs was awarded to him in 2005 to support his work at the SSRC.
Under Jonathan’s direction, the SSRC’s religion programme promoted cutting-edge research, encouraged collaboration among experts in the field and strove to improve the standard of public debate. The programme created a wide range of print and digital publications by putting together projects that were broad in scope and laser-focused on the end result. The digital forum Reverberations was created as a result of a grants programme on the interdisciplinary study of prayer, while the experimental digital project Frequencies, curated by Kathryn Lofton and John Lardas Modern, was inspired by a working group on politics and spirituality in American politics. Jonathan also served as the team leader for The Immanent Frame, a renowned digital project that publishes original writing by hundreds of academics in the humanities and social sciences. He worked there as editor in chief for a while.
Jonathan was hired as the Social Science Research Council’s interim director of communications in 2012. He oversaw projects aimed at streamlining and integrating the SSRC’s varied array of publication platforms and communications tools. After this service, he oversaw the initial establishment of a Council-wide initiative with the goal of better comprehending the digital transformations that are transforming knowledge cultures in many public and institutional contexts, all the while continuing to oversee an increasing religion programme.
Numerous workshops, conferences, consultations, committee meetings, working groups, panel discussions, and public events have been planned and overseen by Jonathan. He has organised events in conjunction with others at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, Yale University, as well as in the Manhattan and Brooklyn convening spaces of the SSRC. The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, a book Jonathan co-edited with philosopher Eduardo Mendieta, was the result of a significant event with prominent philosophers in The Great Hall at New York City’s Cooper Union. The book, which was written by Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West and was published in English by Columbia University Press, also has an afterword by Craig Calhoun. In addition to Spanish, it has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, and Japanese.
Other co-edited books by Jonathan include Habermas and Religion (Polity, 2013), The Post-Secular in Question (NYU Press, 2012), Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press, 2011), and Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, each of which emerged from carefully planned interdisciplinary workshops and larger events (Harvard University Press, 2010).
Jonathan has written and published on a variety of topics in addition to secularism, religion, and public life, including the origins of the subject of transitional justice, American philanthropy and the politics of reconciliation, changes in higher education, and the history of the social sciences.
Fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Social Science Research Council’s Program on Philanthropy and the Nonprofit Sector (supported by a grant from the Atlantic Philanthropies), and the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation helped to fund his doctoral research and subsequent writing on the effects of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Jonathan served as a senior advisor to Contending Modernities, an interdisciplinary project based at the University of Notre Dame that aims to produce new knowledge and a better understanding of the interactions between religious and secular forces in the contemporary world. Jonathan was also a former visiting scholar at the Institute for Public Knowledge at New York University.
Jonathan has been a member of the Cool Culture board of directors, an arts nonprofit with headquarters in NYC, for the last five years. More than 50,000 historically disenfranchised families and their young children receive free, unrestricted entry to a network of 90 top museums, historical societies, zoos, and botanical gardens each year through Cool Culture’s collaboration with more than 450 schools and early education programmes. Jonathan supports the organization’s fundraising efforts and programmes along with the other board members and the enthusiastic and passionate team of Cool Culture.
Books By Jonathan VanAntwerpen Reverberation
The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere
The Power of Religion in the Daily Sphere offers a once-in-a-lifetime chance to witness a varied collection of famous thinkers debate a pressing modern issue: what place does or should religion have in our public lives? Jürgen Habermas, best known for his groundbreaking conception of the public sphere, considers the ambiguous legacy of the concept of “the political” in modern theory while Judith Butler, reflecting on her recent work on state violence in Israel-Palestine, explores the potential of religious perspectives for reviving cultural and political criticism. Cornel West and Charles Taylor both support civil disobedience and emancipatory religion, although Charles Taylor calls for a radical reinterpretation of secularism. An afterword by Craig Calhoun situates these attempts to reconceive the significance of both religion and the secular in the context of current domestic and international politics. Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen detail the enormous contribution of these philosophers to contemporary social and political theory.
VanAntwerpen has organised and directed several workshops, conferences, consultations, community discussions, and public events in addition to his work as a writer and editor. He has organised events at Columbia University, New York University, Princeton University, Yale University, and other institutions with the help of researchers, journalists, editors, activists, artists, and other people.
A grants programme on the study of prayer across multiple academic disciplines and diverse religious traditions produced the digital forum Reverberations, while a working group VanAntwerpen established on spirituality, political engagement, and public life in the United States gave rise to the experimental digital project Frequencies.
The Power of Religion in the Public Sphere, co-edited by Eduardo Mendieta and Jonathan VanAntwerpen, is a significant publication that was the product of a significant event with prominent thinkers in The Great Hall at New York City’s Cooper Union. The book, which was written by Judith Butler, Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Cornel West and was published in English by Columbia University Press, also has an afterword by Craig Calhoun. In addition to Spanish, it has been translated into Dutch, German, Italian, and Japanese.
Other co-edited books by VanAntwerpen include Habermas and Religion (Polity), The Post-Secular in Question (NYU Press), Rethinking Secularism (Oxford University Press), and Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, each of which emerged from carefully planned interdisciplinary workshops and larger events (Harvard University Press).
VanAntwerpen worked at the Social Science Research Council for ten years (SSRC). He served as acting director of communications at the SSRC, designed and developed a new programme on religion and the public sphere, and worked to conceptualise and launch a new initiative on knowledge and culture in the digital age. He started working for the Henry Luce Foundation in New York in 2014, and as of right now, he oversees the programme for religion and theology.
In order to discover more about the inspiration and history behind Jonathan VanAntwerpen’s earlier work on The Immanent Frame and other avant-garde and experimental digital projects, we were able to set up an interview with him. Below is an edited version of this interview. (The opinions and viewpoints presented by Jonathan VanAntwerpen are solely his own and may not reflect those of the Henry Luce Foundation.)
How did The Immanent Frame begin for you?
In many ways, chance and serendipity had a role in the fall 2007 introduction of The Immanent Frame. Our original plans called for it to be a multidisciplinary, multi-author blog focusing on secularism, religion, and the public sphere that would be created in conjunction with work on a Social Science Research Council initiative (SSRC). The SSRC was creating a number of new initiatives and research projects on religion, secularism, and international affairs with money from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and other charitable foundations.
This project quickly expanded into a bigger, more ambitious programme on religion and public life. We began to develop increasingly extensive plans as the program’s work progressed for a variety of conferences, workshops, open forums, and academic publications.
The public relevance of social scientific research, or what we sometimes termed “public social science,” was the focus of some of my colleagues at the SSRC who were starting to experiment with novel applications of digital media at the same time. They built in part on an earlier history of web-based projects. In that setting, we came up with the concept for The Immanent Frame, and before we even had a name for it, let alone a clear understanding of where we were headed or how we would get there, we were well into preparing for its debut.
What did you want to achieve?
Our initial motivation was largely exploratory and experimental as we worked within what have been referred to as “scholarly borderlands”—sometimes ill-defined areas of academic research and intellectual engagement, frequently new and uncertain territories situated in between more established fields or traditional disciplines.
What might we be able to achieve by carefully considering and utilising new technologies? And how would it fit with our more general objectives of promoting creative, multidisciplinary research and expanding its dissemination outside of the typically niche academic communities in which it all too frequently gets contained? Could some of the potent and still untapped opportunities provided by new digital platforms—such as blogs, which were then on the rise—be tapped into and used to create and spread more substantial forms of public social science? We hoped they might be able to.
In the end, it’s likely that the immediately public, extra-academic aspects of the work we supported and released into the world were fairly underwhelming. Ideas, debates, or discussions we highlighted at The Immanent Frame occasionally succeeded in garnering more attention from the general public.
The Immanent Frame was still largely operating in its own small corner of a vast, diffuse, and constantly expanding discursive universe despite the efforts of the hundreds of contributors we supported and published, and the critical thought and passionate dedication they put into their work and writing. Not least on the internet, public debate is a cacophonous, chaotic chaos. That was particularly true throughout the 2000s, the first decade of the already old 21st century. And perhaps back then, things were just chaotic and unorganised enough to offer us room and freedom to be innovative and try new things.
What unanticipated outcome did this work have?
There were many, as there usually are, in my opinion, if you pay attention. A few years after the publication of The Immanent Frame, we had the chance to develop a new project on American spirituality, which was an unexpected conclusion.
It’s a huge and complex subject, full of varying viewpoints and divergent views, different interpretations and numerous misinterpretations, heated arguments and never-ending tangents.
We came to the conclusion that our little working group needed to expand into something bigger and more ambitious as we dug more into the issue. As a result, we started making ideas for a digital book we eventually dubbed Frequencies, which referred to spirituality “as a cultural technology, as a variegated reverberation, as a frequency in the ether of experience.” The Immanent Frame and Killing the Buddha, an online literary journal, collaborated to develop Frequencies. We were, in various ways, riffing on the form and content of The Immanent Frame’s publication style and trying to bend it in some unique and uncharted directions.
I believe that we surprised ourselves, which is probably what should happen with genuine participative and exploratory endeavours. The results of this particular collaborative endeavour shouldn’t be overstated, but I do believe that the wide range of content it generated and curated still merits attention, as I was recently reminded when I went back to Frequencies in honour of its tenth anniversary.
Since you first introduced Frequencies ten years ago, how has digital publication evolved?
It’s a fascinating and difficult issue, and I’m not sure I can offer any unique or privileged insight. Media consolidation and appropriation have undoubtedly had a role in this dilemma, since many ideas that formerly could have seemed novel or dangerous have now either become more commonplace or may have even fallen by the wayside. Although under a distinct set of limitations and in the context of a significantly altered digital order, the current period looks to be somewhat reminiscent of an earlier self-publishing attitude, with newsletters and podcasts growing both within and outside of the mainstream. As I reflect on the work we attempted to accomplish in a previous era, I find myself fascinated by current efforts to “reimagine the internet” in ways that would grasp for and extend the promise, openness, and creativity that has occasionally been associated with Web 2.0, even though I am unsure exactly how to interpret or evaluate them.