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Religion, Technology, and Human Futures in the National Security State

Sylvester Johnson Seminar Poster

Abstract: At a time when the furthest aspirations of military research in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human enhancement (synthetic biology and human-machine hybrids) are transforming the ability to alter our humanity and surveil target populations, what once seemed an unlikely convergence between questions of human identity and national security has now become imminent. In this context, the so-called new materialism to which humanities scholars have become attuned gains new urgency and prompts important rejoinders. Because national security paradigms, moreover, have thrived on the perception of racial threat, a transdisciplinary approach to national security demands bold attention to what Achille Mbembe has termed the digital future of the human in light of the modern tactics of race. In a nod toward anticipatory governance, this talk examines the current and impending practices of racial necropolitics to interpret the most pivotal changes occurring in national security practices. The lecture will foreground the promise of human enhancement and the perils of technocratic disparities that are already reshaping fundamental questions in the material history of religion and the uncertain future of the human.


Biography: Dr. Sylvester Johnson is the founding director of Virginia Tech’s Center for the Humanities. He is an award-winning scholar engaged in exploring humanity in the age of intelligent machines and also serve as the university’s assistant vice provost for the humanities. Prior to joining Virginia Tech, Dr. Johnson served as an associate professor of African-American studies and religious studies at Northwestern University. Johnson holds an M.A. and a Ph.D. in contemporary religious thought from the Union Theological Seminary, where he also earned an M.Phil. in systematic theology. He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry and education at Florida A&M University.