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About the Institute


The praxis emphasis of the Institute provides opportunities to work with the African American church community in sponsoring study forums, clergy and laity study retreats, and conferences for the purpose of examining the critical social ministry needs of the African American community. It is our aim to disseminate the latest in African American theological thought and to provide settings in which the leading African American theological thinkers can hear from and can be engaged critically by those who lead the congregations, lay, and clergy. Through the African American church study forums, the Institute seeks to generate a dialogue that will yield a new African American praxis, one that will enliven the church for Christian social ministry. Conferences sponsored by the Institute in the past have highlighted various liberation themes and praxis goals.


The Institute is a center for research on issues of theology and ministry in the African American religious tradition. Scholarly research during the past decade has documented the historical, theological, and social importance of the African American church as the foundation of African American culture. The current research focus of the Institute is the legacy of African American religious leadership. The Institute has made an important beginning in developing a research base as a result of the acquisition of the papers of the late Kelly Miller Smith. The gift of the Smith Papers provides the Institute with the opportunity to research the particular ecclesiology and theological perspectives of an important African American church leader. Because of the expansive volume of the Smith Papers and the various leads and links to other significant church leaders, civil rights leaders, and other social activities, the Institute's goal is to develop a comprehensive research archive on African American religious leaders. Over the past two decades valuable research has been done on the historical, theological, and social importance of African American churches. This research has revealed the theological impact and leadership qualities of African American church leaders.


As a part of the Vanderbilt Divinity School, the Institute is an important resource for bridging African American church studies and theological education of African American laity and clergy for leadership in ministry. The Institute participates in the shaping of curricular offerings in African American religious tradition. The Institute has launched a five-year program to reshape its African American studies curriculum. This reshaped curriculum will be designed to prepare a generation of African American leaders to effect institutional and community change toward humanization and justice in oppressed urban centers. In 1985, the faculty established the Kelly Miller Smith Scholarship for Ministry in the African American Church. This scholarship is awarded to one entering student who plans to enter ministry in the black church.