The Kelly Miller Smith Institute on Black Church Studies was established in honor of the late Kelly Miller Smith, Sr., assistant dean of Vanderbilt Divinity School from 1968 until his death in 1984. The Institute perpetuates his legacy of theological and academic excellence and prophetic witness. The African-American church remains the primary institution in the African-American community committed to the liberation of persons and groups who suffer from racial and social oppression. The work of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute brings together the African-American church community and African-American educational institutions, as partners with Vanderbilt Divinity School to study and research issues important to the practice of faith and ministry in the African-American church.
The liberation theme of the gospel and the human struggle for justice have been the primary concern of the African-American church community. The African-American church stands at a critical juncture in its history, theology, and practice of Christian ministry. The basic mission of the Kelly Miller Smith Institute is to enter into partnership with the African-American church community to reflect on the liberating elements of African-American religion and to assist in defining a future for oppressed people, shaped by the prophetic vision of God’s justice on earth. The Institute is a vehicle for generating scholarship on the single most important institution in the African-American community, sharing that research through conferences and workshops, and enriching research opportunities through a dialogue with lay and clergy leaders in America’s African-American churches.
As a center for research and praxis on issues of theology and ministry in the African-American church tradition, the Institute focuses on:
- the education of clergy and laity for leadership in ministry,
- the promotion of dialogue between African-American theologians and African-American church leaders,
- the development of research materials on the history of African-American religion in America, leadership in African-American churches, and African-American church theology