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The Certificate in Black Church Studies


The Black church has served as a life-saving and life-giving vehicle for the African American community. A shelter from the troubling waters of oppression and a lighthouse of justice in the midst of stormy seas, the church remains a powerful institution with an extraordinary legacy.

The Kelly Miller Smith Institute recognizes that heritage and provides opportunities to work with the Black church community in the sponsoring of study forums, clergy and laity study conferences and retreats for the purpose of examining the critical social ministry needs of the African American community. It is our aim to provide settings in which the leading African American theological thinkers can hear from and can be engaged critically by those who lead the congregations both lay and clergy. Through the Black Church Study program, the Institute seeks to generate a dialogue that will yield a new African American praxis, one that will enliven the church for Christian social ministry.

Program Description

The Certificate in Black Church Studies program makes available to pastors, lay leaders, and Vanderbilt Divinity School students an opportunity to broaden their understanding of the nature of theology and ministry in the Black Church. The central focus of the program is to bridge the church and theological academy as the church designs and implements social action ministry for congregational and community transformation.

Persons enrolled in the program will give attention to 1) biblical materials focusing on justice and prophetic ministry, 2) theological problems arising out of the African American experience, 3) contemporary ethical dilemmas faced by Black persons in church and community, and 4) practical experience in designing and implementing social crisis ministry.

Program Requirements

Persons who complete a series of continuing education seminars will receive a Certificate in Black Church Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School's Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies. The certificate program offers series of seminars on the Black Church and its liberation ministry tradition. The program seminars will include a range of topics related to: Liberation Theologies and Social Ministry, Biblical Studies, Black Preaching, Christian Education for Black Churches, Economic Empowerment, At-Risk Youth Ministry, and Church-Based Health Promotion.

Vanderbilt Divinity students enrolled in the program will be required to participate in four seminars and to complete a concentration of 18 hours or related course work. Of this number 9 hours must be chosen from the courses listed in the Vanderbilt Divinity School catalog under African American, Race, and Class Studies.  An additional 3 hours must be in a bible course that explores some subject related to the program and 3 hours of credit in a field education setting appropriate to the focus of the program. The field education credit must be worked out with the field education faculty in consultation with the director of the KMSI program.

For VDS students, the certificate program culminates in the presentation of a written assignment in an open forum.  The student must submit a proposal to the director.  The student may submit one's senior project or master's thesis in order to fulfill this requirement.  Students who wish to enter the certificate program normally will have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA and the support of their faculty adviser.  An application may be made at any time following the first semester of study.