Dean Richard B. Hays has announced the appointment of Valerie C. Cooper as associate professor of black church studies at Duke Divinity School effective July 1.
Cooper, who joined the faculty in fall 2013 as a visiting associate research professor, is the first African-American woman to earn tenure at the Divinity School. Using historical and theological methodologies, her wide-ranging scholarship examines issues of religion, race, politics, and popular culture.
Her book, Word, Like Fire: Maria Stewart, the Bible, and the Rights of African Americans, analyzes the role of biblical hermeneutics in the thought of Maria Stewart, a pioneering 19th-century African-American woman theologian and political speaker.
“We are delighted that Dr. Valerie Cooper will be joining our faculty,” Hays said. “Her work will make important contributions to the Divinity School’s community of scholarship and teaching. Her book is not only a discerning historical study of Maria Stewart, one of the first women to play an important role in arguing for African American rights in 19th-century America, but also an illuminating contribution to our understanding of the deeply biblical sources that informed her thought. Dr. Cooper’s interdisciplinary fusion of historical study with biblical hermeneutics is distinctive in her field.”
Alongside colleagues such as J. Kameron Carter, Willie Jennings, Luke Powery, William C. Turner, Esther Acolatse, and Eboni Marshall Turman, she gives Duke Divinity School a distinctive concentration of faculty strength in black church studies and related fields.
Cooper previously was an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia and an assistant professor in the Department of Religion at Wake Forest University. She holds a Th.D. in Religion and Society from Harvard Divinity School, and a M.Div. and B.S. from Howard University.
She has published essays on African-American evangelicals (particularly in Pentecostalism and the Holiness Movement), on African-Americans’ use of the Bible, and with political scientist Corwin Smidt, co-authored an essay on the roles of religion and race in the 2008 election of President Barack Obama. Her article on “Black Theology” is forthcoming in the Handbook of Political Theology.
Cooper is working on Segregated Sundays, a book evaluating the successes and failures of the racial reconciliation efforts of Christian congregations and ministries from the 1990s to the present. In addition to examining why such efforts frequently fall short of their stated goals, she also hopes to propose methods for achieving meaningful cross-racial relationships in America’s still very segregated churches and religious organizations. In this research, she is particularly interested in recovering and recording the stories of ordinary men and women of faith.