2024 Speaker

Sylvester A. Johnson, the founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities, is a nationally recognized humanities scholar specializing in the study of technology, race, religion and national security. He is also associate vice provost for public interest technology at Virginia Tech and executive director of the university’s Tech for Humanity initiative.

His award-winning scholarship is advancing new approaches to understanding the human condition and social institutions of power in an age of intelligent machines and other forms of technology innovation.

From 2014 to 2017, Johnson led a 20-member team of humanists and technologists at Northwestern University to develop a successful proof-of-concept for a machine learning system that could assist in scholarly research of an early English corpus using named-entity recognition and topic-modeling. In 2017, he joined the faculty of Virginia Tech, where he advances research at the intersection of humanity and technology.

Johnson, who holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Religion and Culture, has written The Myth of Ham in Nineteenth-Century American Christianity, 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, 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. A founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions, he has published more than 70 scholarly articles, essays and reviews.

Johnson is writing a book on human identity in the age of intelligent machines and human-machine symbiosis. He is also producing a digital scholarly edition of an early English history of global religions