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Rev Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins
Seeking Justice, Imparting Hope
Dwight Hopkins
Professor of Theology
University of Chicago Divinity School

More Progress Needed To Achieve Diversity Among Faculty

Inspired by the powerful work of James H. Cone and others, a new generation of African-American religion and theology scholars have pursued and earned a “seat at the table” in the academy. It hasn’t been an easy path. But Dr. Cone and his peers provided a model of success that helped sustain us on the journey as scholars and theologians.

“The theme of justice is closely related to the idea of hope,” Cone once wrote, “and hope should be seen in relation to the important theme of love.” These prophetic words can help inform how we think about lifting up the next generation of African-American scholar-teachers in theological education:

  • What are we doing to achieve justice—including improved African-American representation on the faculties of theological schools across North America?
  • How are we imparting hope to aspiring young African-American scholars?
  • And what form does love take as we cultivate and assist young black scholars on their journey?

As an FTE (Fund for Theological Education) Fellow, I received resources and encouragement to follow my dream. So did my wife, Linda Thomas, professor of theology and anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. FTE’s legacy as an advocate for diversity is clear: more than half of the African-American faculty serving in theological education today are FTE Fellows.

In recent years, I’ve served on the faculty of FTE’s Expanding Horizons Conference. Conference faculty help build a sense of community among FTE Doctoral and Dissertation Fellows and connect them with mentors. We provide Fellows with a better understanding of theological scholarship and help them think about research as a calling, not just a career. Since we faculty have walked this sometimes lonely road ourselves, we are able to demystify components of the journey which seem like foreign processes for doctoral students in general and for African-American students in particular. As a result, Fellows leave the conference feeling empowered.

They follow in the footsteps of greatness.

In the early 1950s, Morehouse College President Benjamin E. Mays signed on as a founding trustee of The Fund for Theological Education. Later, the fund launched the Benjamin E. Mays ministerial fellowships, supporting such distinguished candidates as Katie Cannon, James Forbes, Peter Gomes and Delores Williams.

We celebrate their success. But more progress toward diversity is needed, particularly among faculty in the academy. Today, while our society has grown more diverse, people of color are substantially underrepresented on the faculties of theological schools.

According to a recent survey of graduate programs in religion and theology at accredited higher education institutions offering academic doctoral degrees, fewer than ten percent of faculty in these programs are people of color. African Americans account for less than five percent of faculty and just eight percent of students.

Theological schools must create diversity fellowships to formalize mentoring and must also hire more black faculty. Many of us remain the only black professor at our respective institutions.

As faculty, we have a responsibility to mentor doctoral students of color—formally and informally. We can help them understand the importance of networking, of engaging in discussions with experienced scholars (as well as their peers) and of taking a long-term approach to their careers.

Working in partnership with FTE and others, we can open up a brave new world and a vision of success for burgeoning African-American scholars who are too often left out of the information and resource loop in higher education. In doing so, our actions will reflect the justice, hope and love that great leaders like James Cone once extended to us.

Rev. Dr. Dwight N. Hopkins is an ordained American Baptist minister. He is Professor of Theology at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago. Dr. Hopkins received his M.Div., M.Phil., and Ph.D. degrees from Union Theological Seminary, New York and also holds a Ph.D. from the University of Cape Town, South Africa. Dr. Hopkins has published several books including Introducing Black Theology of Liberation, Down, Up and Over: Slave Religion and Black Theology, Black Faith and Black Talk: Essays in Honor of James Cone's Black Theology and Black Power (editor) and Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion.

Copyright © 2005. Dwight N. Hopkins. All Rights Reserved.
Originally published in Vocare, the newsletter of the Fund For Theological Education,
Fall 2005 Volume VIII Number 3
Used by permission,, 2006

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