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The Certificate in Black Church Studies


The Black church has served as a life-saving and life-giving vehicle for the African American community. A shelter from the troubling waters of oppression and a lighthouse of justice in the midst of stormy seas, the church remains a powerful institution with an extraordinary legacy.

The Kelly Miller Smith Institute recognizes that heritage and provides opportunities to work with the Black church community in the sponsoring of study forums, clergy and laity study conferences and retreats for the purpose of examining the critical social ministry needs of the African American community. It is our aim 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 both lay and clergy. Through the Black Church Study program, 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.

Program Description

The Kelly Miller Smith Institute's (KMSI) Certificate in Black Church Studies is designed for those students who desire to expand their knowledge and appreciation of the historical, theological, and practical dimensions of the Black Church tradition. Through the Black Church Studies program, the KMSI seeks to generate a dialogue that will allow students to develop their own theological visions and voices while also preserving the ongoing contribution of Black churches on a local, national, and international basis through its sponsorship of study for study trips, national conferences for clergy and laity, and retreats for the purpose of examining the critical social ministry needs of the African American community from a perspective that celebrates the rich heritage and ecumenical diversity of the Black Church tradition.

Students may earn a certificate in Black Church Studies in conjunction with their Master of Divinity (M.Div) or Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree programs. The Black Church Studies (BCS) certificate represents both an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning process that provides seminarians with an opportunity to develop theoretical and practical knowledge about Black Church Studies and Black Religious Studies more broadly.

Students enrolled in the program will give attention to 1) biblical materials focusing on justice and prophetic ministry, 2) theological problems arising out of the African American experience, 3) contemporary ethical dilemmas faced by Black persons in church and community, and 4) practical experience in designing and implementing social crisis ministry.

Program Requirements

The student, in conjunction with their advisor, and the director of the KMSI Program will plan the course of studies for the certificate. The certificate requires a minimum of fifteen credit hours encompassing the fields of biblical interpretation, theology, ethics, historical studies, homiletics, and contemporary practice within the context of African American churches. The certificate requires completion of DIV 2863: Introduction to Black Church Studies (3 credits). Six credit hours will consist of a Field Education project relating to issues that find interconnections between the Black Church tradition and the African American community. The remaining six credit hours can be completed with suitable course offerings which can be chosen from the attached list of core courses as well as those found on the website (One course may be satisfied through an independent study).

A final culminating exercise for each student seeking the BCS certificate will be presented and defended in a non-credit KMSI Black Church Studies Research Forum. The student must submit a proposal to the director.  The student may submit one's senior project or master's thesis in order to fulfill this requirement.  Students who wish to enter the certificate program normally will have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA and the support of their faculty adviser.  An application may be made at any time following the first semester of study.

Conferral of the certificate requires: an overall GPA of 3.3 or better; satisfactory performance of B+ or better in DIV 2863: Introduction to Black Church Studies; completion of all distribution requirements with a B or better; a Field Education placement that broadens the student's understanding of the nature of theology and ministerial praxis within the Black Church tradition (this can be done in consultation with representatives from Field Education). The KMSI Director may follow-up with the faculty member(s) regarding course content at his/her discretion.