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
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
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 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
Fall 2005 Volume VIII Number 3
Used by permission, BlackandChristian.com, 2006