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Theology of Martin Luther King Jr. Unit

Call for Proposals

Black Hope and Social Imagination in the Thought of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Theology of Martin Luther King, Jr. Unit invites papers that consider hope and social imagination in the philosophical, theological, and ethical thinking of Martin Luther King, Jr., as well as other actors in the broader Civil Rights Movement. We seek papers that engage contemporary questions in the realm of religious studies and African American studies, Black, Black feminist and Womanist studies, as they wrestle with themes such as afro-pessimism and absurdity. How might Kingian thinking help to expand or problematize the discourse on the possibility – or lack thereof – of hope, within a context in which the material evidence suggests that Black Lives don’t matter? How can King’s rich archives of writings, speeches, and sermons that aid in an illumination of how we might contemplate the function and praxis of hope? Additionally, given the timing of the annual gathering of the American Academy of Religion in 2020, directly following an American Presidential Election, we invite papers on King that take up the theme of social imagination. That is, as we look backwards but glance forward, how does King’s social imagination help to narrate the necessity of ethical performance from a theo-political vantage point? How might we think about imagination as an ethics and moral performance in the Civil Rights Movement or King’s thought?

Co-Sponsored Session with the Black Theology Unit
Spirituality, Spiritual Mentoring, and Social Transformation the Life and Thought of Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta Scott King, and Howard Thurman
When Martin Luther King Jr. was a doctoral student at Boston University, Howard Thurman was Dean of Marsh Chapel at BU. Boston was a site that deepened King and Thurman’s mentor-student relationship and also served as the site where Martin met Coretta Scott while she studied at the Boston Conservatory. Coretta, at the time a committed feminist and anti-war activist, became King’s wife and partner in the struggle for justice. As the AAR returns to Boston, we invite papers that explore the life and thought of Martin Luther King Jr, Coretta Scott King, and Howard Thurman around the themes of spirituality, spiritual mentorship, and social transformation.

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.


Steering Committee Members



Review Process

Proposals are anonymous to chairs and steering committee members during review, but visible to chairs prior to final acceptance or rejection