Our list of influential Black religious studies scholars is comprised of leaders in the field who are developing ideas in areas such as activism, political theology, poverty, racial reconciliation, and more. They are paving the way for the next generation of religious studies scholars.
Religion seeks to connect people to that which is ultimately real, sacred, and of ultimate value. According to the American Academy of Religion, religious scholars in the field of Religious Studies inquire into how these religions develop their ideas and how those ideas relate to our lives in the world. Religious faith continues to play a vital role in the Black community. According to the Pew Reasearch Center, 79% of Black Americans identify as religious. This devotion carries over into Black academic studies of religion.
Historically, liberation and freedom from oppression have been the main topics within Black religious scholarship. Prominent theologian James H. Cone (1938–2018) is seen as the founder of Black Liberation Theology, which argues that God identifies with the marginalized and oppressed.seen as the founder of Black Liberation Theology, which argues that God identifies with the marginalized and oppressed. According to Theos:
Contributions by current scholars investigate issues of poverty (West), liberation (Cone, West, Roberts), racial reconciliation (West, Roberts), and black political theology (West, Roberts). Womanist theologians, such as Cheryl A. Kirk-Duggan, have focused on issues of theology and violence from the perspectives of women of color. Religious Studies scholars often seek to connect scholarship and activism, building bridges between the academy, the church, and the larger society.
Black scholars of religious studies have found their inspiration in these historical figures:
The Black scholars in our list were identified as highly cited and searched people using our machine-powered Influence Ranking algorithm, which produces a numerical score of academic achievements, merits, and citations across Wikipedia/data, Crossref, Semantic Scholar and an ever-growing body of data.
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List is arranged alphabetically
Mary Shawn Copeland was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1947. Her B.A. in English is from Madonna College, and her Ph.D. is in systematic theology from Boston College. Her work has focused on theological anthropology, and particularly the implications of the doctrine of humanity for political theology and African American theology.
Copeland is Professor Emerita of Systematic Theology at Boston College, where she taught for more than a decade before retiring in 2019. Copeland was awarded the prestigious John Courtney Murray Award in 2018, and was the first African American theologian to receive that honor. She holds a number of honorary degrees, and has served as president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and as convenor of the Black Catholic Theological Symposium. She is a prolific author and speaker, having written over 100 scholarly articles and delivered lectures throughout the world.
Notable works from Copeland include The Subversive Power of Love: The Vision of Henriette Delille, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being, and Knowing Christ Crucified: The Witness of African American Religious Experience.
Cornel West currently holds the title of Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard Divinity School. Prior to this, he has held positions at Princeton University (where he maintains the title of Professor Emeritus), Union Theological Seminary, Yale University, and the University of Paris. West earned his bachelor’s degree at Harvard University in 1973, and completed his PhD at Princeton University in 1980, making him the first African-American to earn a PhD in philosophy from Princeton.
West is well recognized as a social critic on racial and political issues, as well as a public intellectual. Indeed, his influence can be traced as much (or more) to his public activism and visibility as it can his academic work. West is often cited in mainstream media, and frequently makes public, television, radio, and print appearances. West is known as a strong voice of left-wing politics and social justice in America, though he has also frequently been critical of prominent left-wing politicians, including Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. Also notable is the fact that West has established a public presence removed from politics and philosophy entirely, including cameos in films from The Matrix franchise, as well as a spoken word and hip hop albums.
This list is far from exhaustive; if you have a suggestion for someone to add, please contact us.
Whether for their general contributions to the field of religious studies or for their particular impact within the Black experience, these organizations play an important role:
fosters excellence in the academic study of religion and enhance the public understanding of religion, with a commitment to promoting academic excellence, professional responsibility, free inquiry, critical examination, diversity, inclusion, respect, and transparencyin the study of religion.
committed to creating dialogues that forge bonds of communication for partnership and innovation between Black peoples.At the core of its vision is “the conviction that dialogue and collaboration among scholars, churches, and community activist organizations is essential for cultivating transformative debates and promoting social justice.”
fosters interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration among more than a thousand scholars from sociology, religious studies, psychology, political science, economics, international studies, gender studies, and many other fields.
strives to be the premier organization to drive leadership development, access and vital issues concerning Blacks in higher education. In pursuing this vision, AABHE seeks to collaborate with other ethnic groups and organizations that have similar interests.
For more the most famous Black scholars of the last 30 years, visit our Influential Black Scholars page. If you want more on Religious Studies, visit our Religious Studies page to find more influential Religious Studies Scholars, top colleges and universities for Religious Studies, and more.
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