Wake Forest University School of Divinity is emerging as a center for African American Religious Scholarship. As an ecumenical community committed to justice, reconciliation, and compassion, the School of Divinity envisions its robust access to African American religious scholarship as an enhancing feature of its mission to offer imaginative courses and diverse programs of community engagement. Through the research of faculty experts and signature programming that further examines the significance of African American religion and practice, the school cultivates and elevates conversations that span social, political, and spiritual significance for a nation marred by inequities and division. 

“Religion stands at the center of American life,” said Dean of Wake Forest University School of Divinity and Wake Forest Professor of the Humanities Corey D. B. Walker. “In our contemporary moment, religion functions both as a panacea and as a problem that animates our most intense debates. It is vital to educate the next generation of ministers and faith leaders in understanding the rich and varied traditions of African American religion as we seek to build a beloved community for all.”

Wake Forest University School of Divinity is home to a constellation of distinguished scholars in African American religion. With expertise in African American history and culture, ethics, theology, and religion and American public life, this group represents a historic gathering of African American religious scholars committed to charting a distinctive path for graduate theological education.

Melanie L. Harris is professor of Black feminist thought and womanist theology widely known for her scholarship on ethics and the environment. Derek S. Hicks is associate professor of religion and culture with a distinctive specialty in African American religion and foodways. James and Marilyn Dunn Chair of Baptist Studies and University professor of African American studies Alton B. Pollard III is a distinguished ethicist and scholar of African American religious thought. 

Theologian Melva L. Sampson is an assistant teaching professor who is a prominent scholar on African American preaching and religion and digital media. Wynnetta Wimberley is an assistant teaching professor whose published work examines African American mental health and pastoral care. Dean Corey D. B. Walker is an interdisciplinary scholar who combines the study of religion, theological education, and the humanities in his role as the Wake Forest Professor of the Humanities.

This is a unique moment in the history of Wake Forest University School of Divinity and Wake Forest University. This distinguished group of scholars complement one another and together they represent a signature strength of our faculty as we strive to embody Pro Humanitate at home and in the world. 

Dean Corey D. B. Walker

With an extensive array of scholarly publications, media appearances, and speaking engagements across the nation, this group of scholars are forging a new direction for theological education at Wake Forest School of Divinity and in graduate theological education. School of Divinity students have an unparalleled opportunity to study closely with these scholars in examining how African American religion informs theology, ethics, history, and society. These interdisciplinary and creative courses are enhanced by robust co-curricular programs that engage the many different facets of African American religion. These faculty members play a pivotal role in shaping impactful programming that extends invitations to the larger university community and the public to learn more about African American religion, fostering rich cultural exchange and knowledge sharing.

Past programs have focused on religion, food, and race in Black America, as well as an exploration of the stories and impact of Black women preachers. These symposiums have facilitated insightful discussions and critical reflections on key aspects of African American religious experience.

Looking ahead, the school is gearing up for upcoming events that highlight African American religion and the arts. In collaboration with the North Carolina Black Repertory Company and Wake the Arts, the school will present two plays premiering in Wait Chapel during this summer’s 2024 International Black Theatre Festival. Funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, these plays have been carefully selected for their potential to spark community conversations on race, justice, and religion in the United States.

In April, the school will host “Theological Improvisations,” an innovative exploration of the musicological and theological dimensions of improvisation in African American sacred musical expression. The event will engage the artistic, musical, and theological aspects of improvisation, offering participants a unique and enriching experience that includes a musical performance by award-winning musician Cory Henry, and public conversations featuring Patrick “9th Wonder” Douthit and leading scholars from across the country. 

By expanding the boundaries of graduate theological education and deepening the understanding of African American religion, Wake Forest University School of Divinity is pursuing a distinctive path in graduate theological education. With its mission to offer responses of justice, reconciliation, and compassion to the diverse needs and challenges of the world, the School of Divinity’s approach underscores its commitment to inclusivity and extends an invitation for all students to learn from the diverse traditions of African American religion. 

“Wake Forest University School of Divinity is a hub for African American religious scholarship,” said Walker. “Our interdisciplinary theological scholarship and our creative and collaborative culture will ensure that the School of Divinity will remain a premier place for theological scholarship and teaching that advances knowledge while responding to the intellectual and social needs of our time.” 

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