Candler’s Black Church Studies program will welcome Terrence L. Johnson, Charles G. Adams Professor of African American Religious Studies at Harvard Divinity School, to present this year’s Howard Thurman Lecture on Wednesday, November 1 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. in Room 252 of Candler’s Rita Anne Rollins Building. The in-person event is free, with registration required. Register here.

A description of the lecture is below.

“Deep is the Hunger: Can Black Faith Emancipate the Church from Empire?”

In a 2021 Pew Forum interview, the Rev. Dr. Cheryl J. Sanders, senior pastor of Third Street Church of God in Washington, D.C., and Howard University School of Divinity professor, reflected on the changing nature of ministry within Black church settings. “In the ’60s, you had maybe a high-water mark of political and social influence of religious leaders…We still have people like William Barber who is still essentially carrying out the same agenda as Martin Luther King Jr. in a very public way. I don’t want to overstate the decline of the Black minister, but the civil rights movement had a certain kind of face to it. The vanguard was religious leaders, and that has changed.” 

What the late historian Manning Marable called “Black faith” has been an anchoring ideology of Black political struggles in and outside the Black church. It cultivated a resolute belief among the leadership and lay in achieving freedom through political struggle from Reconstruction and Jim Crow to the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power. In today’s rapidly expanding number of counter-publics, Black faith, and the Black church for that matter, are largely ignored among academics and political activists. Black Lives Matter and Black Studies have raised blistering criticisms of the religious “vanguard” as well as ideologies that believe in and seek freedom. 

In this lecture, Johnson will turn to Black faith to outline an emancipatory political imaginary for a people struggling to make sense of their decaying counter-publics and institutions.

In addition to being on faculty at Harvard Divinity School, Johnson is faculty associate of Harvard’s Edmond & Lily Safra Center for Ethics and affiliate faculty of the university’s program in American Studies. A graduate of Morehouse College, he received his MDiv from Harvard Divinity School and PhD in religious studies from Brown University. He is an ordained itinerant elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Johnson’s research interests include African American political thought, ethics, American religions, and the role of religion in public life. He is the co-author with Jacques Berlinerblau of Blacks and Jews in America: An Invitation to Dialogue (Georgetown University Press, 2022), and the author of We Testify with Our Lives: How Religion Transformed Radical Thought from Black Power to Black Lives Matter (Columbia University Press, 2021) and Tragic Soul-Life: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Moral Crisis Facing American Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2012). Johnson is currently completing a manuscript entitled The Law of Race and Public Religions: Talking Book Traditions and the Limits of Originalism, which is under contract with Columbia University Press.

Johnson serves as co-editor of the Duke University Press Series “Religious Cultures of African and African Diaspora People,” editor of the “Race, Religion, and Politics” book series at Georgetown University Press, and co-editor of the Harvard Theological Review. He is also a member of the Corporation of Haverford College.

Along with writing scholarly articles, Johnson has written for or appeared on CBS This Morning, Salon, NPR, and Literary Hub.

Register here for the November 1 Howard Thurman Lecture.