The Newark Project began in 1993, founded by Art Pressley, Karen McCarthy Brown, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz and Otto Maduro. The project was initially funded by grants by The Prudential Foundation and the Jessie Ball DuPont fund. The project would later receive funding from The Ford Foundation in 1997.
The project began as a breakout group from the course, “Religion and the Social Process” and in 1992 and 1993 the focus of the Newark Project was on studying homelessness and social services. Students were paired with a homeless “mentor” and studied their experience with social services. In 1994, the focus of the project shifted to studying HIV/AIDS. Each student in the “Religion and the Social Process” group was assigned a mentor who was living with HIV/AIDS and documented their experiences through interviews and reports. Another associated course, “Methods in the Study of Urban Life and Religion” covers ethnographic research and the resultant essays, photographs, interviews, video and audio have been collected in the Newark Project Archive. Two other courses “AIDS and Culture” taught by Lee Hancock and “Lived Religion in Urban Settings” taught by J. Terry Todd also were associated with the Newark Project.
The goal of the project since 1994 was to further field-based learning through documenting the personal stories of LGBTQ people in Newark through oral history, with particular focus on queer religious expression. Brown was especially interested in considering the spiritual energy and religious syncretism she found present among LGBTQ people in Newark, countering the narrative of the LGBTQ community being anti-religion, non-spiritual or post-Christian. Another goal of the program was to provide M.Div students with hands-on training for urban ministry. Brown argued that the insular nature of the Theological School prevented students from acquiring real life experience with homelessness, poverty, and marginalized populations.