The Office of Black Church Studies (OBCS) leads the Divinity School in the great work of strengthening the body of Christ through critical reflection, dialogue, and practice that is propelled by the prophetic witness of Black Church traditions.
OBCS supports the theological formation of all students who are informed and inspired by the rich history and traditions of the Black Church. It supports the work of the faculty, especially those teaching and administering courses in black church studies, and advises black seminarians and prospective students who are interested in the intersection of race, faith, and Christian witness.
Fall and spring preaching and lecture series provide frequent opportunities to hear outstanding black preachers. The Gardner C. Taylor Lecture Series and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Lecture Series are sponsored by the Office of Black Church Studies in conjunction with the Black Seminarians Union and a local church. These lectures expose seminarians, faculty, staff, alumni, and local congregations to our nation's most outstanding African American preachers. The Pauli Murray/Nannie Helen Burroughs Lecture is intended to feature women theologians and religious scholars whose work and ministry emphasize the critical intersections of race, gender, and class, as they relate to the transformative uplift of church and society.
Black Seminarians Union
The Black Seminarians Union is a student group that works to develop theological perspectives that are relevant to the needs of black seminarians and the black church. Its goal is to improve the quality of life theologically, academically, spiritually, politically, and socially for the entire Divinity School community.
Duke Divinity School is the first school in the nation to have a course requirement in black church studies for all of its M.Div. students. The school also offers courses open to all its master's and doctoral students.
Black church studies is an intensely interdisciplinary, ecumenical, and intellectually inclusive endeavor. The faculty members who teach courses in black church studies are not simply faculty of African descent but also include other Divinity School faculty members with interests that intersect this interdisciplinary field. This includes faculty members with primary research interests in history, biblical studies, theology, ethics, spirituality, congregational studies, pastoral theology, preaching, sociology of religion, and postcolonial/de-colonial studies.
Here is just a sample of the courses offered on a rotating basis by the Divinity School related to the Black Church:
- Theology in the Black Church Traditions
- The Black Church in America
- Christian Identity and the Formation of the Racial World
- The Life and Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.
- Suffering, Evil, and Redemption in Black Theology
- Introduction to Womanist Theology
- Womanist Theological Ethics
- Black Women, Womanist Thought, and the Church
- Theology and the Black Activist Tradition
- Christianity, Race, and the American Nation
- Deep River: Howard Thurman, Spirituality, and the Prophetic Life
- African Americans and the Bible
- The Most Segregated Hour: Churches, Race, Caste, and Class
Courses and formational opportunities available through OBCS prepare Duke Divinity School alumni for leadership roles in congregations and organizations around the country and world:
Kevin Vandiver, M.Div. ’14 currently serves as the director of youth and young adults at The Riverside Church in New York City.
Rev. Racquel Gill, M.Div. ’15 currently serves as the Lily Pastor-In-Residence at the St. Paul Community Baptist Church in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Rev. Raymonda R. Speller, M.Div. ‘12 is pastor of the Community Congregational United Church of Christ in Montgomery, Ala.
Rev. Courtney Bryant is a doctoral candidate in religion at Vanderbilt University, where as a burgeoning womanist scholar she seeks to construct liberating Christian ethics of the erotic. Her work focuses on the racial, gender and sexual politics of embodiment and the role of encounter and the erotic in the work of liberation.