Josef Sorett

Josef Sorett is a member of the faculty at Columbia University, where he is an Assistant Professor of Religion and African-American Studies and Associate Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL). Josef is also the founding director of the Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS), which is located within Columbia’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS).

As an interdisciplinary scholar of religion and race in the Americas, Josef employs primarily historical and literary approaches to the study of religion in black communities and cultures in the United States. He has a special interest in how ideas about religion inform broader conversations about culture and society, and how such ideas emerge and take shape in (discursive and physical) spaces typically assumed to be outside the provenance of “religion.” His current research addresses two central themes: 1) how ideas about religion have animated histories of African American literature, arts and popular culture, and 2) the relationship between the cultural politics of religious institutions (especially black churches) and American public life.

Josef’s research has been supported with grants from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion, and the Fund for Theological Education (now the Forum for Theological Exploration). He has published essays and reviews in Culture and Religion, Callaloo, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and PNEUMA: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. His current book project, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2015) illumines how religion has figured in debates about black art and culture. He is also editing an anthology that is tentatively titled, The Sexual Politics of Black Churches. Josef received his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Harvard University; and he holds a B.S. from Oral Roberts University, and an M.Div. from Boston University.

Josef’s writing and commentary have appeared in a range of popular media outlets, including ABC News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, as well as on the BBC and NPR. He is also a member of American Academy of Religion’s Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion.