The James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements
Vanderbilt University is committed to furthering justice, equality, and equity through its teaching, research, and service. Few Vanderbilt community members embody these commitments better than former Divinity School student and university faculty member Reverend James Lawson, who has influenced our collective conscience for decades through his parish ministry and as a practitioner and teacher of faith-based nonviolent organizing.
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With Reverend Lawson’s endorsement, Vanderbilt Divinity School and the College of Arts and Science seek to honor his legacy through the James Lawson Institute for the Research and Study of Nonviolent Movements at Vanderbilt University. Drawing on our rich local history, the institute will nurture evidence-based research and education rooted in nonviolent strategies; create and deepen partnerships in Nashville; and develop leaders equipped to contribute to a thriving society. A university investment will allow us to heed the abundant wisdom of Revered Lawson while he is able to participate as the institute takes shape at Vanderbilt. We seek transformative philanthropic partnerships to bring the institute to its full potential.
Reverend Lawson was and remains the spiritual and intellectual heartbeat of nonviolent social changes that demand radical responses—that is, responses that go to the root of the problems we face and demand justice and transformation. He is an enduring witness to a God of justice, mercy and love. His genius lies in his ability to bring others along with him so that generations after his can take up this sacred work. - Emilie Townes, dean of the Vanderbilt Divinity School and distinguished professor of womanist ethics and society
The institute will honor the rich civil rights history in Nashville and nurture community partnerships that align with the institute’s mission and values. The role of religion in this work—from Lawson’s influences to the training of today’s pastoral and lay leaders—will serve as a common thread in the pursuit of the institute’s mission.
Through study of nonviolent strategies and leadership development, the institute will carry forward the work of Lawson and his collaborators in pursuit of three goals:
Given the unique charge to provide scholarship at the intersection of faith-based inquiry, data-driven research and community building, a research fund for the institute will expand on specialist scholarship while stimulating collaborative research and programming.
The institute will address a wide variety of ideas with the goal of fostering informed and civically engaged citizens in the 21st century and beyond. Toward this purpose, visiting scholars and thought leaders will advance dialogue and showcase new perspectives.
Train the next generation
The institute will support student scholarships and post-doctoral positions while also providing compelling avenues for undergraduates to participate. Using the Rev. Lawson’s teachings as a basis, those working within the institute will build a bridge between theory and practice, better preparing students to channel their passion into effective leadership with impact far beyond Vanderbilt.
Partnership and programming opportunities will be announced at the launch event for the James Lawson Institute this fall.