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Headshot of Sylvester Johnson

Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and Executive Director of the “Tech for Humanity” initiative at Virginia Tech

Sylvester Johnson

Sylvester A. Johnson is Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and Executive Director of the “Tech for Humanity” initiative advancing human-centered approaches to technology at Virginia Tech. He is the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Humanities, which is supporting human-centered research and humanistic approaches to the guidance of technology. Sylvester’s research has examined religion, race, and empire in the Atlantic world; religion and sexuality; national security practices; and the impact of intelligent machines and human enhancement on human identity and race. He is a Professor in the Department of Religion and Culture and a design-team affiliate faculty member in Virginia Tech’s socio-technical, transdisciplinary Calhoun Discovery Program. In addition to co-facilitating a national working group on religion and U.S. empire, he co-leads a project at Virginia Tech, supported by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to develop ethically designed, public-interest Artificial Intelligence that can benefit an innovation-driven society.

Sylvester is the author of The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity (Palgrave 2004), a study of race and religious hatred that won the American Academy of Religion’s Best First Book award; and African American Religions, 1500-2000 (Cambridge 2015), an award-winning interpretation of five centuries of democracy, colonialism, and freedom in the Atlantic world. Johnson has also co-edited The FBI and Religion: Faith and National Security Before and After 9/11 (University of California 2017) and Religion and US Empire (appearing from NYU Press in 2022). He is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions. Sylvester is writing a book on human identity in an age of intelligent machines and human-machine symbiosis. 

He currently leads “Future Humans, Human Futures” at Virginia Tech, a series of research symposia funded by the Henry Luce foundation that focus on technology, ethics, and religion. He is also directing the creation of a university-wide “Tech for Humanity” undergraduate minor, funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, to prepare future talent at the intersection of humanities, social justice, and technology.