Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and founding Director of the Center for Humanities, Professor of Religion and Culture
Sylvester A. Johnson is Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and founding Director of the Center for Humanities. He holds an appointment as Professor of Religion and Culture and is an affiliate faculty member of the ASPECT interdisciplinary PhD program at Virginia Tech. His leadership of the Center for Humanities includes a focus on human-centered research and humanistic approaches to guiding the societal impact of technology.
Sylvester earned the PhD, MA, and MPhil from Union Theological Seminary. In 2022, he was awarded the Litterarum Humanarum Doctor (Doctor of Humane Letters) from Starr King School for the Ministry. He is also an alum of Florida A&M University, where he completed the BS in chemistry. 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. In addition to co-facilitating a national working group on religion and US empire, Johnson has led an Artificial Intelligence project that developed a successful proof-of-concept machine learning application to ingest and analyze a humanities text. He 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). He is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions. He is currently producing a digital scholarly edition of an early English history of global religions and writing a book on human identity in an age of intelligent machines and human-machine symbiosis.
He lives in the Appalachian region of Virginia with his spouse and son.