June 13 2024

Honoring 2021 Marty Award Winner Miguel De La Torre

Evan Berry, Arizona State University

Headshot of Miguel De La Torre with text next to it that says "Miguel De La Torre 2021 Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion"

Each year since 1996, the American Academy of Religion has presented the Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion to an individual whose work has helped advance the public understanding of religion. To date, twenty-five persons have received this award, and their work reflects a broad spectrum of how and why religion expertise matters. Awardees include theologians, sociologists, documentary filmmakers, philosophers, and poets, all of whom demonstrably advanced the public understanding of religion. Some Marty Award winners have been comparativists who have helped lay audiences understand the world’s manifest plurality of religions; some awardees are deeply embedded within a religious tradition and have worked to bridge the conversation between adherents and outsiders; still other awardees have helped bring subfields within the study of religion to maturity and made an impact both within and beyond the academy.

Recipients of the Marty Award are champions of the study of religion—excellent scholars, writers, and artists who have worked to enrich public conversations about religion, promote religious literacy, and generate knowledge that helps communities and institutions act with humanity and wisdom.

The twenty-sixth Marty Award goes to Rev. Dr. Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics and Latinx studies at the Iliff School of Theology. Professor De La Torre has a doctoral degree in religion from Temple University and three masters degrees: a master’s in religion also from Temple, a master’s in divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a master’s in public affairs from American University.

He serves on a variety of boards both inside and outside of academia and has published many dozens of book chapters and journal articles on topics ranging from theological perspectives on race, Cubano religiosities, Christian masculinity, immigration and the border region, inclusivity in higher education, and liberation theology. Professor De La Torre has published more than twenty monographs and edited quite a few books as well, on faith and politics, sexuality, Santeria, and Latinx theologies. His Reading the Bible from the Margins and Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins have become touchstone books for scholars working at the intersection of exegesis, justice, and public life.

The AAR’s Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion was specifically impressed by Professor De La Torre’s enduring engagement with distinct public audiences outside the academy around a cluster of important social and ethical issues. His extensive body of writing and speaking on immigration, race, and sexuality are particularly impressive, especially given that with respect to all of these issues, he has published both scholarly and public-facing work, including syndicated columns for Ethics Daily and the Baptist News Global. His extensive publications stand alongside a prolific record of public speaking.

The Committee took particular note of the pains Professor De La Torre has taken to engage lay groups both inside and outside his own confessional tradition, an effort that requires a different kind of energy and courage than does working within exclusively academic contexts. This energy is apparent in his 2017 edited volume Faith and Resistance in an Age of Trump, which outlines and explores questions of Christian social ethics in this moment of rising authoritarianism, political violence, and environmental injustice. His fluency in simultaneously engaging scholarly, confessional, and secular public audiences, he provides an excellent model of how scholars of religion advance the public understanding of religion by working with multiple intersecting publics. The Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion recognizes Miguel De La Torre as the first Latinx recipient of the Marty Award.

At his suggestion, the Marty Award Session at the 2021 Annual Meeting will take a novel approach, breaking with precedent from the proverbial "before times" and gathering several senior scholars to discuss the challenges that Latinx scholars face as they navigate the complex professional terrain at the intersections of higher education, public scholarship, and activism. Edwin Aponte (executive director of the Louisville Institute), Jacqueline Hildalgo (professor of Latino/a studies and religion at Williams College), and Isabela Rosales (PhD candidate at Denver University) will join Dr. De La Torre in exploring the contributions of Latinx scholars to the public understanding of religion.

Editor's note: The Marty Award session discussion featuring De La Torre will be in-person during the 2021 AAR Annual Meeting on Sunday, November 21 from 3 to 4:30PM in Convention Center-207B.

Evan Berry is an assistant professor of environmental humanities in the School of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies at Arizona State University. His research examines the relationship between religion and the public sphere in contemporary societies, with special attention to the way religious ideas and organizations are mobilized in response to climate change and other global environmental challenges. Berry is the author of Devoted to Nature: The Religious Roots of American Environmentalism (University of California Press, 2015), which traces the influence of Christian theology on the environmental movement in the United States. He also serves as Chair of the AAR’s Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion (CPUR).