These are exciting times in the realm of African-American religious studies,
according to a pair of former FTE Doctoral and Dissertation Fellows.
"I'm seeing a great deal of interest in understanding the African-American religious experience," says Cecelia Moore, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton, an FTE fellow in the early and mid-1990s.
Moore, who specializes in church history at the Roman Catholic university, says here "classes are packed," with 35 students in each class.
There are also lots of things coming to light from the perspective of religion in America. Every year, there are new books on the African-American experience published. This field feels broader, fuller, much more alive."
She mentioned that a National Public Radio program caught her attention only the day before. It featured a historical piece on the African-American hymn, "Lift Every Voice." "It was great!" she said. "It's another sign that there's a greater interest in American religion in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups."
Moore is energized by her professorial role. She teaches introductory religion classes, graduate level courses and mentors Ph.D. candidates. She said she was delighted to receive an e-mail message recently from a former student who has been invited to teach a class at her alma mater. The student told her she planned to analyze an African-American spiritual as she had done for one of Moore's courses last year.
"I had asked the student's to analyze a spiritual--theologically, sociologically, spiritually and scripturally--to understand how enslaved people lived. When I teach something, I hope it's useful but often don't see the results. It's gratifying to learn that something I taught a year ago had some real benefit."
Former FTE Doctoral and Dissertation Fellow J. Kameron Carter is midway through his first year as assistant professor of theology and black church studies at Duke Divinity School in North Carolina and finds that "especially here at Duke, there's much to be hopeful about."
Not only has the school given him "a great deal of latitude and encouragement," but it also makes a course in African-American studies a requirement for all divinity students.
Carter is one of five people from racial/ethnic minorities on the divinity school's staff. "We're leading the way among all the professional schools at Duke," he says. But when it comes to retaining African-American professors--awarding them tenure, "there is still more work to be done."
Carter says Duke's leadership has addressed the issue of tenure by putting in lace a policy that provides each new professor with two mentors, one within a person's own department and one outside it. The mentors periodically review their writing and other work and offer advice in the process towards tenure. "The dean here is also very helpful and is interested in getting you published and published quickly," Carter says.
Getting a Ph.D. is a significant milestone, and I have nothing but praise and accolades for the FTE for helping me do that," he adds. "But there's a level beyond that in the way the academy is structured. We need to ensure that there's a structure in place in which those from racial and ethnic minorities can take root and flourish in order to have an impact in sustaining and permanent ways."
Reprinted from The Newsletter of the Fund for Theological
Education, Winter 2002, Volume 5, Number 1, Nanette Sexton Ross, Editor.
For more information about FTE programs, visit thefund.org.
© 2002 BlackandChristian.com. All Rights Reserved. This article used by permission.