Boston University Launches Center for African American Religious Research BOSTON
Boston University inaugurated its new Center for African American Religious Research and Education earlier this month with a series of public lectures and workshops honoring the late Rev. Dr. Prathia L. Hall.
Hall, who inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream Speech,” was a Baptist minister in Philadelphia before joining the faculty at Boston University, where she held the Martin Luther King Jr. Chair in Social Ethics until her death in August 2002.
The center, established this year at the School of Theology, is directed by the Rev. Imani-Sheila Newsome-Camara, assistant dean for student affairs and an assistant professor of theology.
Newsome says the idea of the center came to her last year after attending Hall’s funeral, where she realized that she couldn’t let Hall’s legacy of standing for civil rights and human rights die. “This is not the end. This can’t be the end. We must go on,” Newsome remembers saying to herself.
Hall’s legacy has already drawn a number of important religious leaders to the center. Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first woman to be named a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Bishop Leontine Kelly, the first Black female bishop in the United Methodist Church; and Bishop Barbara Harris, the first female bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church, are participating in the center’s ongoing inaugural events throughout this month.
“The women who have come to help launch this center have in common with Prathia (Hall) a courage that needs to be named and celebrated,” Newsome says. “They are coming because they were connected to her.”
The center will be a venue for teaching, research and community activities involving the African American religious experience. Part of the mission will be to convene scholars to talk about their research in religious studies to those who will go on to the professoriate, but also to “the people who need to hear the information outside these walls … to motivate people to act for justice,” Newsome says.
Within the seven theological schools that make up the consortium, the center at Boston University is unique because it attaches itself to a seminary school and makes the training of clergy a priority, according to Newsome. “We will actually train people who will be religious leaders in other settings, in nonprofits, and teach across the world,” she says.
Hosting visiting professorships, scholars-in-residence programs and nurturing doctoral students to move toward studying topics of the African Diaspora are also on the center’s agenda, according to Newsome.
“Honoring the past, celebrating the present and planning for the future, without these three components you can not sustain such a project,” she says.
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