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Sylvester Johnson

Tech for Humanity Executive Director

The Tech for Humanity initiative is being led by Sylvester A. Johnson, Assistant Vice Provost for the Humanities and founding director of the Virginia Tech Center for Humanities. Johnson is a nationally recognized expert on technology, race, religion, and national security. 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, Sylvester 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. Since 2017, he has served as director of the new humanities center established in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech, which is advancing research on humanity and technology.

Johnson, who holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Religion and Culture, has authored 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 has published more than 70 scholarly articles, essays, and reviews. He is a founding co-editor of the Journal of Africana Religions.

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