The idea was that Symposium would bring together all of our community… As long as we live in these bodies, as long as we are on this earth, as long as we do this work, we cannot live in separation, because we don’t live separated lives.”
–Dr. Ibrahim Abdurrahman Farajajé
Starr King Symposium
January 8, 2022
Online via Zoom
A tradition founded by former SKSM Provost Dr. Ibrahim Farajajé (1952-2016), Symposium is an annual gathering of our entire student body, faculty, staff, trustees, and community members. This “urban retreat” serves as a day of study, dialogue, food, art, music, community-building, service, and celebration of the Spirit of Life, as we cultivate multi-religious, counter-oppressive, just and sustainable communities.
Starr King’s 10th Annual Symposium will be completely virtual on January 8th, 2021. This Symposium is convened by Dean Gabriella Lettini in collaboration with other SKSM faculty and community leaders.
The Racial History of Capital and the Digital Future of Humanity: Artificial Intelligence, Race, and the Cyborg
Is the distinction between people and things a fiction to be disavowed or an ethical imperative to be upheld? Is personhood a capacity unique to humans (or to living things, more broadly) or an emergent quality that is characteristic of virtually all material entities? As technology generates unprecedented riches, what lessons about value (of people and objects), identity, and wealth can be gleaned from the past to shape a future for shared prosperity? In this talk, Sylvester Johnson offers a rejoinder to these questions by examining the relationship between treating people as objects (the history of slavery) and perceiving personhood in things (talking to Siri) in order to ponder the technological future of humanity. By tracing the linkage between the history of capital and race and the changes that AI poses for the experience of personhood, he will explain how technology is poised to redefine what it means to be human in an age of intelligent machines.
Our Honored Teacher
This year we are thrilled to have Dr. Sylvester A. Johnson, a nationally recognized author, scholar, and educator. Dr. Johnson will also receive an honorary doctorate from SKSM during the opening ritual of the Symposium.
Dr. 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 governance. He is a member of the Religion and Culture faculty and a design-team faculty member in the socio-technical, transdisciplinary Calhoun Discovery Program at Virginia Tech. In addition to co-facilitating a national working group on religion and US empire, he led an Artificial Intelligence project that developed a successful proof-of-concept machine learning application to ingest and analyze a humanities text.
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. And he 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.
Stay tuned for more details!
Please Note: Parts of this event will be recorded for both absent students and release for the public. If you have any concerns about being on camera please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
For highlights of past Starr King Symposia, click here.