PAPERS Resources

AAR Annual Meeting
Denver, CO
November 17-20, 2018

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Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. Unit

Statement of Purpose: 

The work of this Unit is focused on creating conversations around the unique contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. to the Christian theological tradition in the twentieth century and to the religious, cultural, political, and economic consequences of his work. We are particularly interested in the many facets of the Civil Rights Movement, of which King was a significant part. These explorations have included a focus on the role of women in the movement, the economic dimensions of King’s work, and his use of both the theological traditions and rhetoric of the Black Church. In all of our sessions we are interested in fostering inter- and multidisciplinary approaches to this project.

Call for Papers: 

The work of this Unit is focused on creating conversations around the unique contributions of Martin Luther King Jr. to the Christian theological tradition in the twentieth century and to the religious, cultural, political, and economic consequences of his work. We are particularly interested in the many facets of the Civil Rights Movement, of which King was a significant part. These explorations have included a focus on the role of women in the movement, the economic dimensions of King’s work, and his use of both the theological traditions and rhetoric of the Black Church. In all of our sessions, we are interested in fostering inter- and multidisciplinary approaches to this project.

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was in Memphis to support the labor struggles of Black sanitation workers. At the same time, the Poor People’s Campaign was preparing to put a face on the realities of poverty and economic injustice in the United States by erecting a city in Washington, D.C. and enact a well-organized lobbying plan to force Congress to act. King’s assassination stalled the momentum of the Movement as the focus shifted from the work that was underway. Fifty years later, King’s question, “Where Do We Go from Here?” remains significant as we consider the civic responsibilities, opportunities, and risks facing religious scholars and socio-religious activists throughout the world.

Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Unit invites paper proposals for the 2018 annual meeting in the following areas:

• The enduring legacy (including the continuities and discontinuities in freedom struggle) of Martin Luther King, Jr. 50 years after his assassination. We encourage papers that first explore the nature, contours, and utility of a King-ian ethic of non-violent direct action during the civil rights movement and, second, take up how freedom fighters appropriate such an ethic in the in the contemporary moment.

• The unfinished work of King and the Civil Rights Movement. We welcome papers that offer insights about the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968 and the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival of 2018.

• “Dangerous Spirituality” (a designation offered by Vincent Harding for the spirituality of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Howard Thurman), and the challenge of living into the civic responsibilities, opportunities, and risks of Kingian ethics in the 21st century.

• Other paper proposals that advance the critical engagement of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life, theology, and ethics are also welcomed.
We also invite papers for possible co-sponsorship:

• To mark the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in Memphis, the Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Unit, the Afro-American Religious History Unit, and the Religion and Cities Unit plan to co-sponsor a session at the 2018 meeting. We are seeking papers that focus on surveillance of religious communities including socio-religious movements in cities, making connections to FBI surveillance of King in his last year. Papers that address the ways Black and Brown activists continue to be surveilled today (including the 2017 revelation of the FBI's construction of "Black Identity Extremists") and a critical analysis of historic and contemporary religious-theological responses to surveillance are welcomed.

• Breaking White Supremacy
The Ethics Unit, the Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. Unit and the Liberal Theologies Unit invite papers that discuss Gary Dorrien’s 2017 book Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel for a co-sponsored session at which Gary Dorrien will be a respondent. Papers might address such topics as the importance of Breaking White Supremacy in understanding the Black social gospel and continuing the work begun in Dorrien’s The New Abolition: W.E.B. DuBois and the Black Social Gospel (2015); the theological insights of the civil rights movement and the way those insights inform, critique, and are critiqued in contemporary settings by the Movement For Black Lives; the claim that the civil rights movement ultimately failed to break white supremacy, and the implications of that claim for communities working to break white supremacy today; and contribution of Breaking White Supremacy considered against the backdrop of Dorrien’s body of scholarly work. Liberal Theologies Unit will be handling this call.

Method: 
PAPERS
Process: 
Proposer names are visible to chairs but anonymous to steering committee members
Leadership: 
ChairSteering Committee