ACLS Leading Edge Fellowships

The deadline for this program has passed. The description below is for information purposes only. ACLS is now seeking partners for the 2021 Leading Edge Fellowship competition. While previous rounds were targeted to specific disciplines of study, recent PhDs from across the humanities and humanistic social sciences will be encouraged to apply for this spring fellowship competition. Proposals are due January 20, 2021. The RFP can be found here.​

Fellowship Details

  • Stipend: $60,000 plus health insurance and professional development funding
  • Tenure: Up to 12 months beginning in January or February 2021
  • Applications will be accepted only through the ACLS Online Fellowship Application system ( Please do not contact any of the organizations directly.
  • Application deadline: November 2, 2020, 9pm EDT

The American Council of Learned Societies is pleased to announce the second competition of the Leading Edge Fellowship program, which aims to demonstrate the potential of the humanities to solve problems and build capacity in various sectors beyond the academy. The fellowships provide support for placing talented, entrepreneurial recent PhDs in religious studies, theology, ethics, and related fields in organizations around the country, to help communities respond to issues caused by the COVID-19 crisis and advance public understanding of the pandemic. This initiative is made possible through the support of the Henry Luce Foundation.

Leading Edge Fellows

  • Take on secure, intellectually meaningful work in a challenging job market
  • Receive annual stipends of $60,000 plus health insurance and professional development funding
  • Take the lead on defined portfolios of projects lasting up to 12 months
  • Are expected to undertake professional development activities with other fellows over the course of the fellowship
  • Begin annual fellowship terms in January or February 2021

Leading Edge Hosting Organizations

  • Benefit from fellows' scholarly perspectives and broad sets of skills and capacities, including strong writing, project management, cultural competencies, and problem-solving skills
  • Define substantive projects for fellows
  • Provide supervision and access to requisite resources to execute the project(s)
  • Offer opportunities for networking and mentorship throughout the fellowship year
  • Are prepared to bring on fellows and supervise projects remotely

We expect the fellowships to foster mutually beneficial partnerships between fellows and their hosting organizations. Each applicant may apply for up to two of the available Leading Edge Fellowship opportunities listed below.  


  • Applicants must have a PhD that was/will be conferred by their university between September 1, 2016, and December 31, 2020, and must have successfully defended their dissertations by November 2, 2020. Applicants scheduled to earn PhDs in fall 2020 must be prepared to verify progress to degree with official university documentation during the review and selection process.
  • Applicants' PhDs may be in any field in the humanities or humanistic social sciences, as the research focuses on the academic study of religion, theology, or ethics and contributes to scholarship on one or more of these fields. See FAQ for further information.
  • Applicants must be authorized to work legally in the United States for the entire duration of the year-long fellowship term. Neither ACLS nor the host organization can sponsor fellows for visas.

Application Requirements

Applications must be submitted online and must include:

  • A completed application form
  • A cover letter tailored to each selected position and addressed to the host organization (1-2 pages). Applicants applying for two positions will submit two distinct cover letters. 
  • A résumé (1-2 pages) and a list of three references. Applicants applying for two positions will submit two résumés and lists of references. No reference letters are required at the time of application.

Review Process and Selection Criteria

The selection and placement takes place over three stages: The first round of review is overseen by ACLS and conducted by PhDs holding positions in various sectors beyond the academy. Finalists determined by this process will be interviewed by host organizations, who will send rankings and feedback to ACLS. Finally, ACLS interviews top-ranked candidates to offer the fellowship.

First-round reviewers will evaluate applications based on:

  • Demonstrated ability to connect academic and non-academic skills and capacities to the qualifications and responsibilities of the applicant’s selected project(s)
  • Demonstrated interest in and commitment to contributing to solutions to problems in society 
  • Willingness to partner, collaborate, listen, and learn from others
  • Applicant's academic and extra-academic accomplishments 

Leading Edge Fellows will join a robust community of practice in the publicly engaged humanities and will have the opportunity to draw on networks of related ACLS programs, including the Mellon/ACLS Public Fellows and Scholars and Society Fellows. The diverse experience of the ACLS community is a shared resource that fellows are encouraged to draw on during and after their fellowship terms. 

Participating Organizations and Projects

The PDFs of the full project descriptions, which include detailed information on the host organizations, the projects, and requisite applicant qualifications, are available below. We expect that all fellowships granted in this competition will be held remotely​.

Applications for these positions are accepted solely through the Leading Edge Fellowship program. Only complete applications, submitted through the ACLS Online Fellowship Application system ( by Monday, November 2, 2020 9pm EST, will be considered. Please do not contact any of the host organizations with questions.

Note: For the purpose of the fall 2020 competition of the Leading Edge Fellowship competition, PhDs in any field in the humanities or humanistic social sciences may apply, so long as they demonstrate that their scholarly research focuses on religion, theology, and/or ethics. ACLS welcomes applications from PhDs in religious studies and philosophy as well as PhDs in other disciplines whose research contributes to the understanding of the cultural, social, and political dimensions of religion, theology, or ethics. An anthropologist studying the role of religion in a particular community, a historian of religious institutions or communities, an art historian of religious iconography, or a political scientist who studies the interplay of religion and policy are just a few examples of eligible candidates. The humanities and related social sciences include but are not limited to American studies; anthropology; archaeology; art and architectural history; classics; economics; ethnic studies; film; gender studies; geography; history; languages and literatures; legal studies; linguistics; musicology; philosophy; political science; psychology (excluding clinical or counseling psychology); religious studies; rhetoric, communication, and media studies; sociology; and theater, dance, and performance studies. PhDs in interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary humanistic studies are welcome. This program does not accept applications from students receiving a PhD in the fields of business, public policy or public administration, education or arts education, clinical or counseling psychology, creative writing, journalism, library and/or information sciences, law, social work, social welfare, urban planning, public health, filmmaking, performing arts, or any field of pre-professional or applied study. Master’s degrees, even if they are the terminal degree in the field, will not be accepted as substitutes for the PhD. If your degree field is not listed above, and you have questions about your eligibility, please contact For more information about eligibility, visit the FAQ page. Back to text.