Boston University Wins Lilly Endowment Grant for Spiritual Videos

Contact: Richard Taffe, 617-353-4626 |

Boston, MA — Boston University has been awarded a $206,000 Lilly Endowment grant to continue Professor Peter S. Hawkins’ work on the “Listening for God” series – anthologies of writings by contemporary American authors that illuminate the relationship between literature and spirituality. The grant will fund filming of companion documentary interviews with the authors discussing the spiritual aspects of their work and lives and sources of their inspiration.

Used by thousands of church groups and in high school and college classrooms nationwide, the “Listening for God” series was launched with a Lilly grant in 1991 when Hawkins was teaching at Yale University. Published by Augsburg Fortress Press, the first two volumes had companion videos and DVDs. The new Endowment grant finances companion interviews for volumes 3 and 4. Hawkins is compiling and editing volume 4 which – along with the new video/DVD companions -will be completed by fall and available next spring.

“Response from educators and students made clear the need for a video for each of the four volumes. We thank Lilly Endowment for appreciating that a genuine dimension of our work is missing without the author interviews,” said Hawkins, Professor of Religion in Boston University’s College of Arts and Sciences. “First, they add to the text the power of person-to-person communications. Second, these authors are probing spiritual dimensions of their writings and lives that generally are overlooked by reviewers and traditional media. Finally, beyond being valuable educational tools, the interviews are archival resources in their own right.”

Under the grant, sixteen authors featured in volumes 3 and 4 of “Listening for God” are being interviewed by Boston-based documentary filmmaker Harry Gural, a veteran of numerous “Nova,” “Frontline,” and “The American Experience” programs for PBS television. They include Oscar Hijuelos, Kent Haruf, Michael Malone, Mary Gordon, Tilly Olsen and Tess Gallagher. Other authors in the series include John Cheever, Kathleen Norris, Alice Walker and John Updike.

Within Division of Religious and Theological Studies at BU, Professor Hawkins directs the Luce Program in Scripture and Literature Arts, a leading institution in the study of Biblical traditions in contemporary poetry and fiction. Previously he was professor of Religion and Literature at Yale Divinity School and director of its Religion and Arts Program, where he co-edited the earlier volumes of “Listening for God” with Paula J. Carlson, now professor of English and associate dean of academic affairs at the University of Dubuque in Iowa.

One of the largest private foundations in the United States, the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment was founded in 1937 by three members of the Lilly family through gifts of stock in their pharmaceutical business, Eli Lilly and Company. A separate entity from the company, the Endowment is devoted to the causes of advancing religion, education and community development. The country’s largest single funder in the field of religion, the Endowment supports a wide variety of efforts to enhance the quality of ministry in American congregations and parishes and seeks ways to encourage healthy and vibrant congregations. The Endowment also funds projects designed to promote informed dialogue about religion in American life, generate new knowledge, communicate fresh insights, and renew and sustain vital institutions of American Christianity.

Boston University, with an enrollment of nearly 28,000 in its 17 schools and colleges, is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States. The University offers an exceptional grounding in the liberal arts, a broad range of programs in the arts, sciences, engineering, and professional areas, and state-of-the-art facilities for teaching and research.