Institutes & Initiatives

Institutes & Initiatives

The Center for Race, Religion and Economic Democracy (C-RRED)

The Center on Race, Religion and Economic Democracy is an Institute at Union Theological Seminary (UTS).   As part of a tradition of national and global justice making, UTS is a place of scholarship on religion as a force for addressing oppressive structures and practices in society and promoting collective action for social transformation. Since 1863, Union has developed leaders who have played important roles in social movements for racial justice, gender justice, LGBTQ justice, workers’ rights, eradicating poverty, peace work, ecological sustainability and more.  The C-RRED will draw upon these resources and bring to bear relationships with religious leaders, other scholars and community organizers across sectors to engage in a robust theological inquiry.  This inquiry is one that is not only connected to and informed by organizing and activism for democratic action, but also able to move into action.


The United States has a political and economic system that makes survival difficult for increasing numbers of people around the globe. Much has been said and written about economic inequality, the rise of corporate power and the consequences for social relations and for the future of democracy. We seek to extend these discourses by drawing together different strands of ideas about the moral imperatives for transforming our political economy and society. We believe that the extension of these discourses must include a moral imperative around racial justice. The struggle for racial justice is a necessary element in achieving a just, democratic political economy that supports thriving communities and honors our shared humanity and dignity.

We start with a few basic moral questions: Who is part of the community of concern? Who deserves to live a full and wholesome life? How are the foundations of our society undermining life chances for many groups of people? What is the prevailing commonsense that prevents us from seeing more clearly the linkages between oppressive political and economic conditions and increases in precarious life situations?  How do we reclaim the moral imperative in theology and disrupt the ideologies, both secular and faith-based, that undergird oppressive systems?

What We Do

There is a deep and long-standing tradition of liberatory theological inquiry that seeks to promote social, economic and racial justice, which has at its starting point a belief that every human being has dignity, inherent value and beauty, and that we are all bound together in an ongoing project of creating the conditions for wholesome, healthy lives in loving communities. 

This theological framework is, at its best, is informed by and connected to social movements that bring people together to build the kinds of political and economic relationships that affirm humanity, community and genuine democracy. But there too often is a gap between theological inquiry and social movement organizing. We seek to bridge this gap by bringing together faith leaders, organizers, scholars and activists to engage in the intellectual inquiry and develop the moral leadership that is necessary to build a prophetic counter-hegemonic movement capable of resisting the neoliberal commonsense that makes lives precarious and expendable. Central to the work of C-RRED will be the movement of analysis out of the academy, wedding together the emerging discourse with actual movements. We will engage with leaders across a variety of sectors and nurture leaders who can move and act in multiple sectors and spaces as well as bridge across sectors and between affected communities and scholars.

This reflects our commitment to organic intellectualism –– developing moral leadership that can plant one foot squarely with the community of concern while having a foot in the institutions and processes that are effecting change; and who can bridge those understandings and experiences.

Upcoming Events

Cellblocks and Border Stops: Transformative Activism in an Age of Dehumanization

Organized in collaboration with the Alliance for a Just Society’s Institute for Pragmatic Practice and national and local collaborators, Cellblocks and Border Stops: Transformative Activism in an Age of Dehumanization will bring together organizers, religious scholars, academics, policy leaders, journalists, and grassroots activists to examine the intersection of immigration control and mass incarceration, and to consider the future of activism and organizing in these areas.

Date: October 17-19 2013, Union Theological Seminary, New York City


The Center has staff and leadership with grounding in faith communities and related theories of change as well as hands-on experience within multiple sectors of social movement organizing. Our leaders are able to bring together faith and secular ideas and schools of thought around the elements of a just and good society through relationships with activist/scholars who bridge both academic and activist worlds. We also have relationships with faith communities and clergy who are exploring questions about a moral economy and social transformation.

The Grassroots Policy Project is a strategic partner with the Center that brings the following interests and strengths to this effort: Strategic practice concepts and tools, relationships in the field, in-depth and ongoing engagement with organizing groups in multiple sectors (faith, labor, community organizing) operating at local, state and national levels, ability to catalyze conversations across networks and sectors about big strategy and movement-building questions, a history of work on ideology, corporate power, democracy and difference and racial justice.

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