Howard Thurman, the Disinherited, and American Religion in the Twentieth Century

Sunday, April 18, 2021, 12:00 PM - 12:30 PM

Type: Roundtable Discussion

Tags: African American; Race; Religion


Howard Thurman (1899–1981) was a unique figure in twentieth-century American and African American religion. He was a mystic whose impact on thinking about spirituality helped shape liberal religion and black social gospel theology in mid-twentieth-century America. While Thurman has been extensively studied by religious scholars and theologians, historians have treated him as an afterthought. The panel represents leading scholars on Thurman and his world. They will discuss aspects of his legacy and make the case that he is an underutilized resource for historians.

Session Participants

Chair and Panelist: Paul Harvey, University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Paul Harvey (PhD University of California, Berkeley, 1992) is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. He is the author of thirteen books and numerous articles on race and religion in American history.

Panelist: Peter Eisenstadt, African American history; urban history
Peter Eisenstadt is the author of books on the history of New York State, and was one of the principal editors of the five volumes of the The Papers of Howard Washington Thurman. His definitive biography of Howard Thurman, entitled Against the Hounds of Hell: A Life of Howard Thurman, will be published by the University of Virginia PRess in late 2020.

Panelist: Randal Maurice Jelks, University of Kansas
Randal Maurice Jelks is an awarding winning Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan (BA), McCormick Theological Seminary (MDiv) and Michigan State University (PhD).Jelks has authored two award winning books African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids (The University of Illinois Press, 2006), which won the 2006 State History Award, University and Commercial Press, Historical Society of Michigan and Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (University of North Carolina Press 2012), winner of the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2013 Literary Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Jelks has most recently written Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans: Ethel Waters, Mary Lou Williams, Eldridge Cleaver and Muhammad Ali (Bloomsbury, January 2019). He has participated in The Oxford Conference for the Book, University of Mississippi; South Florida Book Festival; Southern Book Festival (Nashville), appeared on C-Span, and written op eds in media outlets around the country. He is currently researching and writing several other books Additionally, Jelks serves as an executive producer of documentary I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled directed by academy award winning screenwriter and filmmaker Kevin Willmott.

Panelist: Nicole Kirk, Meadville Lombard Theological School
Dr. Nicole Kirk is a historian of American religious history. She joined the Meadville Lombard faculty in 2012 after earning her Ph.D. in American Church History at Princeton Theological Seminary. She is the first to hold the Schulman Chair of Unitarian Universalist History. Her current research focuses on American religious history in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Her research interests include business, religion, technology, and material and visual culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Dr. Kirk’s first book, Wanamaker’s Temple: The Business of Religion in an American Department Store was published from New York University Press in October 2018. She was a part of the editorial board and a contributor to the two-volume set, Documentary History of Unitarian Universalism (2017). Dr. Kirk is currently working on a book tentatively titled Railroad Religion: The Religious Worlds of Railroad Barons and Their Workers. This book explores the complex and surprising ways the construction of railroads and the wealth they produced transformed American religion.

Panelist: Anthony Sean Neal, Mississippi State University

Panelist: Larry Steven Perry Ph.D., Northwestern University
Larry S. Perry, II is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies. Dr. Perry's work focuses on the history of the American Religious Left, its thoughts, thinkers, politics, and practice. Dr. Perry's current book project is entitled A Black Spiritual Leftist: Howard Thurman and the Religious Left’s Unfinished Business of Race Relations. In the past, Dr. Perry has served as Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in conjunction with Georgetown University’s Department of African American Studies. Dr. Perry received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia in the Department of Religious Studies with a concentration in American Religious History. He also holds a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York and a BA in History from Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.