headshot of Williams

Eric Lewis Williams, M.Div. ’05, Ph.D., who currently serves as curator of religion for the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and lead researcher in the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life, has been named director of the Office of Black Church Studies and assistant professor of theology and Black Church studies effective July 1.

“As we close out a wonderful yearlong celebration of God’s gifts to our community throughout the past 50 years of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School, I can think of no better foretaste of the future than to celebrate God’s gifts to us in the next generation of leadership for this remarkable and historic office,” said Edgardo Colón-Emeric, dean and Irene and William McCutchen Professor of Reconciliation and Theology at Duke Divinity School. “Dr. Williams weaves together a pastoral sensibility, scholarly acumen, and creative energy that will greatly enrich our work together.”

Williams earned his Ph.D. in Religious Studies at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). He is an alumnus of Duke Divinity School, earning his M.Div. in 2005, and he is also a graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary (M.A.T.S.), and the University of Illinois at Chicago (B.A.). He is an ordained minister in the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), and in addition to his active congregational participation and frequent preaching invitations he has worked closely with the COGIC Scholars’ Fellowship to stimulate academic scholarship among COGIC members.

“It is with tremendous joy and appreciation that I return to Duke University to direct the Office of Black Church Studies and to join the illustrious teaching faculty of Duke Divinity School,“ said Williams. “Nearly 20 years ago when I completed my program of study at Duke Divinity School, I never imagined that someday I would be called to serve the Office of Black Church Studies, particularly during this, the 50th Anniversary of its vital work and witness. I look forward to continuing in the trajectory charted by former directors, such as Bishop Joseph Benjamin Bethea, Dr. William Clair Turner, Jr., and others that have served OBCS over the past 50 years.”

As a scholar of African American religion and culture, Williams’ extensive teaching experience is coupled with his innovative leadership at the National Museum. He curated the museum’s first exhibition devoted solely to religion, “Spirit in the Dark: Religion in Black Music, Activism, and Popular Culture.” His current research examines the many ways that religious beliefs and cultural practices of African peoples in the West have helped to shape their moral development, political aspirations, and social engagement. His teaching and research, with a foundation in the disciplines of American religious history and Black Christian thought, has explored interdisciplinary theological approaches to both learning opportunities and program development.

“It was clear to the search committee that Dr. Williams' unique skills and professional experiences were best suited for preparing our students for ministry in 21st century congregations, while also exposing them to a myriad of ministry opportunities outside of the traditional parish,” said Quinton Dixie, chair of the search committee and associate research professor of the history of Christianity in the United States and Black Church studies. “Moreover, his interest in the production of scholarship in service of the church means the Office of Black Church Studies will continue to mine the Black Christian experience in search of that which has spiritual and social value for all.”

Said Williams, “As director, my desire is to curate and cultivate a culture of intellectual curiosity, and moral reflection, drawing on the power, beauty, and transformative capacity of the grand traditions of African and African American spiritualities.”

The Office of Black Church Studies (OBCS) was founded in 1972, the first such office at Duke University and one of the earliest Black Church offices among all U.S. theological schools. The OBCS hosts world-renowned preachers and lecturers, provides formation and pastoral care for students, and leads a variety of initiatives to develop, preserve, and share resources from the Black Church for the whole church. Learn more.