Uncovering Hidden Figures and Moments of the Virginia Civil Rights Movement

by Rachel Olson, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I am a recent graduate of the University of Virginia, on the pre-medical track, with a bachelor of arts degree in religious studies. During my time at UVA, I took great interest in understanding the world around me in terms of religion and science. I became a religious studies major because of my love for different religions and cultures, and I am part of a pharmacology research lab through UVA’s School of Medicine because of my love for science. I enjoy volunteering at Charlottesville’s multi-resource day shelter The Haven as well as mentoring incoming Black students at the University. I take great interest in human rights, equality, and giving back to those in need. 

For my summer research project in lived theology, I am creating a digital exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia that will feature key documents, moments, and actors. More specifically, I have been completing preliminary research, such as gathering primary sources, searching archives, and writing articles for the project. Recently, I have completed my first interview with an author who has written a compelling narrative on civil rights and religion in Richmond. The digital exhibit will feature an all-encompassing timeline of events that occurred during the civil rights era in Virginia. It will also feature relevant primary source documents from this time period as well as photos of important figures and locations. We hope to also link to significant resources, which can be of great use to educators and students of all ages. I believe this digital exhibit will provide scholars as well as the general public with reliable sources and facts about civil rights in Virginia. Our hope is that the exhibit will bring new insights and attention to events and activists who may not have received widespread publicity at the time of their pursuits.

I am passionate about deepening my understanding of Virginia’s rich history, and I yearn to approach this sensitive topic with accuracy and care. Although the Civil Rights Movement was a difficult and trying time, it is my aim to showcase the way in which this movement, along with religion, became a catalyst for change in a positive direction. By shedding light on major drivers and events of the movement, I am confident that all of us can learn and grow to be more accepting people, who are capable of valuing each other, despite our differences. 

Learn more about the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia digital exhibit project here.

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Sitting With the Stillness and Silence: Quakerism and the Pandemic

by Siana Monet, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

They told me that it was the largest gathering of Quakers to have congregated at the Blacksburg Friends meetinghouse since the pandemic had started fifteen months before. Twenty-five people in varying stages of formality––ranging from khaki trousers to everyday gardening wear––gathered to sit outside on an eccentric collection of folding, beach, and lawn chairs with the occasional blanket thrown in. We sat in near silence for an hour, interrupted only by birdsong, the reflections two Friends offered on the importance of giving, and the crackling of the speaker set up to include the two participants who were joining via Zoom. The first part of the meeting ended when the Friend chosen that week clapped once and stood up so that we could begin introductions and then offer the joys and sorrows we had experienced in the last week: gratitude for the monarch butterfly way-station erected in a front garden, joy of a new grandchild being born, worry over a sister-in-law’s cancer.

My interest in Quakerism had developed as part of a long and circuitous path. Having been born and raised in Kenya and Thailand, indigenous African religious traditions such as those of the Maasai and the Theravada Buddhism practiced in much of Southeast Asia came much more easily to me than the Missouri Synod Lutheranism of my extended family. Upon moving to Northern Virginia to begin high school, I struggled to find a faith community which resonated with the multicultural spiritual background that I had inherited. I wanted to be able to be in communion with fellow seekers and travelers while not echoing religious insistences that there was only one path to the divine. My family and I ended up attending a Unitarian Universalist church for four years, but the lack of religious commitment was isolating in a different way. 

In the middle of high school, I stumbled across the book Let Your Life Speak by the Quaker theologian Parker Palmer. It completely changed my sense of responsibility and commitment to vocation. I considered for the first time that I might want to love what I would do with my life; the book worked its magic on my heart for many years until I decided to drop the premedical track that I had been pursuing and instead begin to consider the spiritual dimensions of healing. This interest in the intersection between spirituality and healing led me to pursue a certificate in Bhutanese traditional medicine, intensive research in Yoruba divination traditions, and a job helping to create the first encyclopedia of Tibetan contemplative traditions. While pursuing all of these different paths, an interest in the stillness at the core of them––and present in the Friends meetings of Herndon and Charlottesville that I came to sit with––grew.

I moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, to sit with the Blacksburg Friends group, many of whom I have met over the course of the last year. In doing so, I hoped to understand more deeply how their practice had changed and shifted since the coronavirus pandemic. For a group who practiced sitting with one another in stillness and silence, I was curious how a year of stillness, silence, and occasional fits of furious toilet paper stockpiling had impacted the Blacksburg Friends’ practice. During the pandemic, I had often thought back to my earlier experiences with Quakerism as a resource for considering the kind of quiet camaraderie that my fellow citizens and I experienced while waiting in line outside of the supermarket, sanitizing our hands before entering and exiting every building, and methodically extending a six-foot berth to those on the sidewalk when running by. I’m excited to see how the Blacksburg Friends’ practices have deepened and changed as I continue to pursue this project.

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Looking at God Through a Scientific Lens: The Civil Rights Movement in Virginia

by Josh Heman-Ackah, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I recently graduated from the University of Virginia, double majoring in biochemistry and religious studies. I have always been intrigued by the concept of a deity whose hands are molding our world. From the initial creation of the universe to everyday occurrences, I am always looking out for where God may be present. During my digging into how a deity may have created the world through a scientific lens, I fell deeper in love with chemistry and its brilliant rules that govern our planet. After this fellowship concludes, I will continue research within the UVA Department of Chemistry, investigating the deuteration of pharmaceutical drugs to increase their efficacy and safety. In my free time, I love to exercise, watch movies with close friends, and serve in my local church and community.

For the Project on Lived Theology, I will create a digital exhibit showcasing the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia. Despite what people may believe, there is a huge scarcity of resources related to the movement in Virginia relative to other states. And out of what is recorded from Virginia, even less is accessible to the public. This project utilizes primary sources, such as autobiographies, interviews, newspapers, and court cases, to collect, catalog, and share as much information as possible about this subject. Topics for this Civil Rights exhibit will include integration, interracial marriage, UVA racial unrest, Dr. King/SCLC, the Lynchburg Christian Academy, voter rights, African American efforts, protests/boycotts, and more. Recently, I interviewed Douglas E. Thompson, the author of Richmond: Priests and Prophets, a compelling narrative of civil rights and religion in Richmond, Virginia. Additionally, I have drafted a summary of information gathered from various primary and secondary sources about the Loving v. Virginia case, which legalized interracial marriage in Virginia and set a precedent that would forever change marriage in the United States.

My research interests are focused primarily around the 1950s, when laws and attitudes regarding segregation and race drastically changed. I am most intrigued by what society looked like from a real-world perspective. I want to know how it was determined that in a particular state, African Americans could enter and patronize a store, but not use the changing room or sit down at the lunch counter. I want to know more about the thoughts and attitudes of African Americans, especially as they lived through segregation day to day. I deeply want to know the individuals who paved the way for my future. If I was born even fifty years earlier, I would not be able to vote or dine in certain restaurants, and would have had several basic rights withheld from me. Most importantly, I would love to discover how the existence of God and religion have shaped the foundation of segregated systems, and how those same influences helped Virginia break out of those racialized structures. People should study history so that they do not repeat the same mistakes. Virginia will inevitably slip back into its old habits if it does not even know its history to begin with. This project will help pave the way for continued growth and understanding within the state.

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

PLT Collaborator Jacqueline Bussie Named Executive Director of Collegeville Institute

The Project on Lived Theology (PLT) congratulates Jacqueline Bussie on being named the new executive director of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. Bussie’s new position begins on Sept. 1. She will be the first female executive director in the institute’s fifty-four-year history.

“I’m overjoyed and humbled by this appointment to serve as the Collegeville Institute’s next executive director,” said Bussie during an address to the institute’s Board of Directors earlier this month. “This marvelous and mutilated world needs the gifts that the Collegeville Institute offers more than ever—world-transforming scholarship, soul-sustaining worship, bridge-building dialogue, and life-giving community.”

The Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research is a residential center that brings together diverse groups of scholars, writers, artists, and faith leaders through its various programs. Located on the grounds of Saint John’s Abbey and University in central Minnesota, the Collegeville Institute was founded in 1967 by Fr. Kilian McDonnell, OSB, to nurture scholarly research and promote mutual understanding across denominational differences. The Collegeville Institute is rooted in the Christian Benedictine tradition and sees its mission as fostering the world’s healing through the power of religious ideas, insight, and practices.

“In these times of deep division, the Collegeville Institute’s mission of bringing people together to bridge differences is needed more than ever,” said Bill Cahoy, chair of the Collegeville Institute’s Board of Directors. “Dr. Bussie’s achievements and commitments prepare her well to lead us into the next chapter for the Collegeville Institute.”

Bussie currently teaches religion, theology, and interfaith studies at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where she also serves as the director of the Forum on Faith and Life. She is an award-winning author and theologian. Her books include The Laughter of the Oppressed: Ethical and Theological Resistance in Wiesel, Morrison, and Endo (Bloomsbury, 2007); Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the Rules (Thomas Nelson, 2016); and Love Without Limits: Jesus’ Radical Vision for a Love with No Exceptions (Fortress Press, 2018). Bussie earned her PhD from the University of Virginia’s Department of Religious Studies and has an MA from Yale University and a BA from Davidson College.

Throughout the years, Bussie has been deeply involved in PLT initiatives, including the 2005 and 2013 Spring Institutes for Lived Theology (SILT). As part of the 2019-20 SILT, she is co-editing the upcoming PLT publication People Get Ready! Thirteen Misfits, Malcontents and Dreamers for Troubled Timesfor which she is also writing an essay on Southern author Flannery O’Connor. Bussie contributed to the PLT book Lived Theology: New Perspectives on Method, Style, and Pedagogy (Oxford University Press, 2017). 

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

More Questions Than Answers: Deciding to Study My Church’s Civil Rights History

by Sophie Gibson, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I am a rising fourth year in UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences, and am double majoring in Political & Social Thought (with concentrations in Religion in the U.S., Educational Philosophies, and Sociocultural Anthropology) and Religious Studies (with a primary concentration in African Religions and a secondary concentration in Christianity). I was born in Charlottesville, but my family has lived on Cape Cod for nine years. At UVA, I am involved in The University Fellowship at St. Paul’s Memorial Church, Madison House, the Virginia Interfaith Coalition, and the University Judiciary Committee. I am also an intern at The Fountain Fund, a local nonprofit.

Interactions in the classroom, office hours, and committee meetings led me to pursue research with the Project on Lived Theology. As a student, I have prioritized taking classes on subjects that intrigue me and with professors I know will inspire me. For this reason, I have found a home in the Religious Studies department. The myriad methodologies and guiding principles that comprise the discipline of Religious Studies create a welcoming environment for questions and reflections. In fact, I found my way to the Project on Lived Theology in discussions with two of my professors, Heather Warren and Charles Marsh. I was first introduced to the concept of “lived theology” in Professor Marsh’s “Kingdom of God in America” class. Professor Marsh’s teachings about the theological underpinnings and enactments of the Civil Rights Movement made me ask questions about the impact of mundane lived theologies—particularly related to the recent history of Charlottesville. 

In my three years as a member at St. Paul’s Memorial Church, I have heard stories about St. Paul’s as the progressive Episcopal Church across the street from the Rotunda during the period of the Civil Rights Movement. As a member of the Mission & Service Committee, which was started at St. Paul’s in 2020, I found myself in discussions with very involved congregants and community members about the issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in our church. In this space, we realized that we have more questions than answers about our congregation’s history in the fight for justice. 

This summer, I want to learn more about specific leaders (including Rev. Ted Evans) and congregants who shaped St. Paul’s engagement with the rest of the Charlottesville community and the Diocese of Virginia. How St. Paul’s lived into its theology and how that history shapes the current congregation’s sense of identity directly and intuitively are central questions. I hope to use theological texts for background reading, archival resources, records housed by the Diocese of Virginia, and interviews with congregants to add detail and color to the period of 1954-1968 in St. Paul’s history. I am excited to see where this research will lead me this summer and beyond! 

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

Whatever You Did For One of the Least of These, You Did For Me

by Karen Cortez, 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellow in Lived Theology

I first found out about the Project on Lived Theology (PLT) sometime last summer.  I was on UVA’s Religious Studies website, trying to figure out which class I should take during the upcoming semester, when I found myself doing a deep dive of the entire PLT website. I was met with people who were doing incredible things to bring about good in their communities, inspired by their own faith or the faith of others, and I wanted to learn more.

For my research this summer, I am looking at the role that faith-based organizations play in alleviating communities affected by poverty. I am particularly interested in learning more about faith leaders who championed a life dedicated to this type of activism and about the theologies that motivate these leaders to live lives dedicated to this type of work. 

I was led to this topic by my own experience growing up serving in homeless shelters with my churches as well as going on service trips with my youth group and my current college fellowship. Whenever we would get a chance to speak with the leaders of the organizations we would partner with, they would often speak from the heart about uplifting and serving, through whatever means they could, those marginalized in their communities by homelessness, food insecurity, or socioeconomic status. Many of them would often cite Jesus’ statement in Matthew 25:34-40 as the motivation for their service: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” It was amazing to see how one’s belief in these verses could manifest itself in such works of good, and it always left me wondering what I could do to live that life too.

I am so grateful and excited to be spending my last summer as an undergrad thinking, reading, and learning more about my topic, and to be doing it alongside the rest of the fellows. I am hopeful for a summer that will not only teach me how others live out their own theologies but will show me the ways in which I can do so as well, for the good of myself and for those around me. 

Learn more about the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology here.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

PLT Welcomes B. Brian Foster, Acclaimed Race and Place Scholar, to UVA

The Project on Lived Theology welcomes B. Brian Foster to the University of Virginia. Starting this fall, Foster will serve as an associate professor in UVA’s Department of Sociology.

Foster will come to UVA from the University of Mississippi, where he has been an assistant professor of sociology and Southern studies since 2016. His courses at “Ole Miss” have included Race, Place, and Space; Introduction to Southern Studies; and The Southern Protest Mixtape.

On his website, Foster explains how his public writing and research focus on questions of race and place: “I write about how places—especially Black communities—change; how those changes are curbed and spurned on by systems and policy; and how local people explain, contest, and live amidst it all.”

Foster’s book I Don’t Like the Blues: Race, Place, and the Backbeat of Black Life (University of North Carolina Press, 2020) chronicles the town of Clarksdale, Mississippi, a place known widely as the “birthplace of the blues” and that has, since 1980, tried to use that title to kickstart local economic revitalization and community development efforts. Foster details how the Black residents of Clarksdale feel about those efforts.

Foster serves as director of the Mississippi Hill Country Oral History Collective, a community of scholars, students, and local people committed to recording and archiving the histories of Black (and other marginalized) communities across the thirty-county Mississippi Hill Country region.

Foster earned his BA from the University of Mississippi, and his MA and PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His work has been supported by the National Science Foundation and the American Sociological Association, among others. He has written for local, regional, and national platforms, including the Washington Post, CNN, and The Bitter Southerner. He has also co-directed and collaborated on two short films, How We Got Here and Road to Step.

“Based on his writing and research as well as his interests and passion, it’s quite clear that Brian’s scholarship closely aligns with the PLT mission,” said Charles Marsh, PLT director and religious studies professor at UVA. “The project welcomes Brian to UVA, and we look forward to working with him in the near future.”

To learn more about B. Brian Foster, visit https://www.bbrianfoster.com.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

PLT Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows Ask Big Questions About Faith and Society

Spring 2021

This spring, staff members at the Project on Lived Theology (PLT) realized that because of COVID-19, they would not be able to implement their usual summer immersion program, during which undergraduates work on site at service organizations across the nation. 

So, the PLT team quickly adapted by creating the 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowship in Lived Theology. This re-imagined program allows students to conduct research, think, and write about questions related to the social repercussions of theological commitments.

Last month, eight UVA rising fourth years and new graduates began their Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowships in Lived Theology. Each fellow receives a $3,000 stipend, and works directly with a UVA faculty mentor, who acts as a theological-academic mentor and offers guidance on the fellow’s research project.

“Over the years, the PLT summer internship program has supported truly special students of mine who are brilliant, soulful, idealistic, and self-directed. They demonstrate a commitment to tikkun olam (repairing the world),” said Vanessa Ochs, UVA religious studies professor. 

Ochs, who has served as a mentor to interns in previous years, is this year helping Siana Monet, who graduated last month. For her research project, Monet is investigating how lived Quaker theologies intersect with poetry as a contemplative practice. 

“I’m so excited to get to learn alongside students and professors who are similarly inclined and to share these insights with this community,” said Monet.

Paul Dafydd Jones, mentor to fellow Malia Sample, sees the working relationship between fellows and mentors as a two-way street. 

“It’s always a delight to serve as a mentor, and to learn with–and from–students. I’m consistently impressed by their industry, commitment, and moral passion,” said Jones, who is an associate professor of religious studies at UVA and the director of the Project on Religion and its Publics. Sample will study racial justice and faith during her fellowship.

Some fellows found out about the Undergraduate Summer Research Fellowships in Lived Theology through their professors. Sophie Gibson, a rising fourth year, applied to the fellowship after talking with PLT director Charles Marsh about how his class on the Kingdom of God in America connected to her academic and extracurricular interests.

Maddie Pannell, a rising fourth year, first heard about PLT in Heather Warren’s class on American Religion, Social Reform, and Democracy, which led Pannell to apply to the fellowship. Warren, an associate professor of religious studies at UVA, will serve as Pannell’s mentor and guide her exploration of the experience of Chinese and Chinese Americans with American Christianity. 

“I’ve been interested in the study of religion and have believed in its potential for creating social change since my first year at UVA, but [Warren’s] class introduced me to people doing exactly such kinds of work,” said Pannell. “I’m grateful that this fellowship gives me the opportunity to explore more deeply the recent anti-AAPI hate and the brave AAPI men and women standing up against it. It’s truly an honor to participate in work that is so deeply meaningful to our community and nation.”

Throughout the summer, Isaac Barnes May, PLT research fellow and UVA American Studies assistant professor, is leading weekly group sessions for the fellows over Zoom. During this time, fellows can check in about their progress, discuss assigned readings, or hear a guest speaker. 

“During our time together, we will consider how faith commitments have been lived out in difficult and trying circumstances, said May. “This is a chance to engage in big questions, particularly how people try to live out their theological commitments and change society.”

The fellows and mentors got to know each other better during an introductory session on June 2. The fellows also plan to gather together for fun virtual activities, such as movie and game nights, over the coming months.

The fellows will also write blog posts for the PLT website about their research progress and discoveries. In the early fall, they will present their work at a public event. Depending on the COVID-19 situation, the event will either be held in person on Grounds or over Zoom. 

The 2021 Undergraduate Summer Research Fellows in Lived Theology are: 

Karen Cortez
Project: The role of Christian and Evangelical organizations in uplifting those marginalized by socioeconomic status
Mentor: Isaac Barnes May

Sophie Gibson
Project: The participation of St. Paul’s Memorial Church (Charlottesville, Va.) in the Civil Rights Movement from 1954 to 1968
Mentor: Heather Warren

Josh Heman-Ackah
Project: Creation of a digital exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia
Mentor: Isaac Barnes May

Siana Monet
Project: An ethnographic study, with the Blacksburg (Va.) Friends, about how Quaker practice has changed during COVID-19
Mentor: Vanessa Ochs

Rachel Olson
Project: Creation of a digital exhibit on the Civil Rights Movement in Virginia
Mentor: Isaac Barnes May

Maddie Pannell
Project: Interviews with Chinese international students at UVA to learn more about the experience of Chinese and Chinese Americans with American Christianity 
Mentor: Heather Warren

Malia Sample
Project: What racial justice (in relation to the murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Atlanta shootings) means to faith 
Mentor: Paul Dafydd Jones

Annie Webber
Project: How lived religion has played a role in the Black Lives Matter movement
Mentor: Heather Warren

PLT plans to share details about the 2022 fellowship application process in November or December 2021. Details will be posted at livedtheology.org.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

New Book on Reparations and the Church Published

Pastor, scholar, artist, and producer Gregory Thompson has co-written a new book, Reparations: A Christian Call for Repentance and Repair, with Duke L. Kwon, lead pastor at Grace Meridian Hill, a neighborhood congregation in Washington, D.C. Brazos Press published the book last month. 

Thompson has worked closely with the Project on Lived Theology, including participating in PLT’s 2005 Spring Institute for Lived Theology and lecturing on Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work in Memphis with the sanitation workers’ strike, just prior to King’s assassination.

Reparations makes a compelling historical and theological case for the church’s obligation to provide reparations for the oppression of African Americans. Thompson and Kwon articulate the church’s responsibility for its promotion and preservation of white supremacy throughout history, investigate the Bible’s call to repair our racial brokenness, and offer a vision for the work of reparation at the local level. They lead readers toward a moral imagination that views reparations as a long-overdue and necessary step in our collective journey toward healing and wholeness.

Reparations is an exemplary work of public theology, born of chastened Christian conviction and pastoral anguish,” said Charles Marsh, PLT director and University of Virginia religious studies professor. “Beautifully written and generous in tone, Kwon and Thompson’s book illuminates the costs and joys of discipleship in a nation marked by white privilege and its theological disfigurations.”

“We are at an inflection point in our nation. We can either continue with the racial status quo or earnestly engage in the long-overdue process of repair,” said Jemar Tisby, CEO of The Witness Inc. and author of How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey toward Racial Justice. “Reparations is a book for this moment. It is a call to action to offer tangible restitution for the historic exploitation of Black labor. While Christians should have been leading the way on this all along, sadly, too many have demonstrated compromise and complicity instead. Kwon and Thompson marshal deep research, theological acumen, and pastoral tenderness to make a timely call for reparations and the dignity of all people.”

Gregory Thompson’s work focuses on race and equity in the United States. He serves as executive director of Voices Underground (an initiative to build a national memorial to the Underground Railroad outside of Philadelphia), research fellow in African American heritage at Lincoln University (HBCU), and visiting theologian for mission at Grace Mosaic Church in Washington, D.C. He is also the co-creator of Union: The Musical, a soul and hip-hop-based musical about the 1968 sanitation workers’ strike. Thompson earned his PhD from UVA’s Department of Religious Studies.

The Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia is a research initiative, whose mission is to study the social consequences of theological ideas for the sake of a more just and compassionate world.

On the Lived Theology Reading List: Against the Hounds of Hell

Against the Hounds of Hell: A Life of Howard Thurman, by Peter EisenstadtA Life of Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman was a trailblazer in many aspects of his life; he was the first African American to meet Mahatma Gandhi, one of the first and most insistent mid-twentieth-century proponents of racial integration, and an early and outspoken advocate for social and economic justice. It has not been until now, however, that The Hounds of Hell has given him biographical treatment he deserves. In this book, author Peter Eisenstadt explores multiple different facets of Thurman’s life, including his activism and theology.

Thurman was born in 1899, and he was an inspiration to Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, and other leaders of the civil rights movement. He was a forward thinker in regard to social issues as an early feminist and environmentalist, but he also opened new doors in theology, becoming a key figure in the emergence of mysticism and spirituality as an alternative to formal religion. Most importantly, Thurman dedicated his career to fighting the “hounds of hell,” which he categorized as the way fear, deception, and hatred impeded the steps of African Americans and the marginalized and disinherited peoples of the world.

Reviews and endorsements of the publication include:

“Until now, there has been no standard one-volume biography of this transcendently important figure, one of the most important ministers, theologians, and philosophers of twentieth-century America. Eisenstadt’s magisterial work is the definitive biography of Thurman.” — Paul Harvey, University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, author of Howard Thurman and the Disinherited: A Religious Biography

“With this thoroughly researched and elegantly written biography, Peter Eisenstadt has secured the legacy of Howard Thurman’s life and work. Just as importantly, he offers readers who are just now discovering Thurman a very good idea why the renaissance of this great American’s spiritual wisdom is long overdue. Read the book to learn your history, feed your soul, or change your life. Whatever your reason, Thurman and Eisenstadt will not disappoint.” — Barbara Brown Taylor, author of Learning to Walk in the Dark

“Peter Eisenstadt explores Howard Thurman through a lens only a gifted historian can offer. Eisenstadt shows that Thurman is more than a seminal religious figure; he’s a genuine American icon whose wisdom and cultural importance becomes richer over time. Thurman’s life story has all the elements of a rich human drama. But in the telling by Peter Eisenstadt, every detail is wrapped in just the right historic, cultural and theological context to make it ever more engaging.” — Martin E. Doblmeier, author of Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story 

For more information on the publication, click

Fellow travelers are scholars, activists, and practitioners that embody the ideals and commitments of the Project on Lived Theology. We admire their work and are grateful to be walking alongside them in the development and dissemination of Lived Theology.

For more of “On the Lived Theology Reading List,” click here. To engage in the conversation on Facebook and Twitter, @LivedTheology, please use #LivedTheologyReads. For more recommended resources from our fellow travelers, click here, #PLTfellowtravelers. To sign up for the Lived Theology monthly newsletter, click here.