The Vanderbilt Divinity School is partnered with The Henry Luce Foundation in forming The Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative. The Collaborative is designed to strengthen our mutual commitment to combat the idolatry of racism that remains widespread in our society by engaging the academy, religious bodies, and society on the local and national level. In doing so, we will harness the power of public theology to challenge our ties to our respective religious communities, which often keep us siloed within particular racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and faith boundaries. Public theology asks us to come together to explore fundamental questions about the nature of racism and how it intersects with other forms of social oppression.

One focus of this partnership is the preparation of the next generation of religious leaders to think theologically about racial justice. We seek applicants from among the student body of the Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Graduate Division of Religion who are interested in building strategies for genuine social change that hold together rigorous theological and intellectual engagement with deep social engagement. This opportunity is for the Collaborative Fellow.  

One-time fellow awards are made to VDS and GDR students. Unlike the grants made by the Collaborative to special short-term projects, fellows will be expected to produce a research or community engagement project with a projected impact that relates directly to the stated mission and purpose of the Vanderbilt Divinity School Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative. The Collaborative Fellow will be selected by the director, post-doctoral fellow/Associate Director and 3 planning committee members through this application process. The selection will be based on the strength of the proposed project, impact on public theology and racial justice, previous course work, area of academic focus, recommendation of the faculty or other supporting entity, and the scope of the project they will pursue. The financial support that fellows receive from the Collaborative is entirely supplemental (not tied to financial aid, other existing grants or field education). Fellows will be awarded a $5,000 to $10,000 stipend depending on the scope of the project and expected length of research proposed by the applicant—complexity of the topic, anticipated resources required.

The nature of fellows’ projects will be longer term efforts that require commitment and focus. For example, fellows may work together and with multi-faith leaders and community members to start an afterschool program to tutor and mentor students at an elementary school that services low-income families. They may also build a diverse network of religious leaders and community members to work with the Organized Neighbors of Edgehill—the closest community-based organization to the university—on their health project focusing on premature births, proper prenatal care, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, depression and other health concerns found in low-income racial and ethnic communities. Through this work, fellows would lead by example, demonstrating the role religious leaders of all faiths play within the larger community in eradicating racial injustice. 

Collaborative Fellows are managed by the post-doctoral fellow/Associate Director of the Collaborative, Rev. Dr. Teresa L. Smallwood, Esq. and may also work with a particular faculty member on a project or with a local community organization to develop a project that addresses the pressing racial justice issues facing the community. At the culmination of each project, Fellows will lead a community-wide presentation to demonstrate the outcomes of their project and its impact on public theology and racial justice. Whether the presentation takes the form of a talk, performance or report, the goal to engage VDS and the Vanderbilt communities as well as the wider public in an open forum remains consistent.

Collaborative Fellows will be selected based upon the following criteria:

  • Statement of interest in the Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative as a resource for development of leaders seeking to engage the questions of racial justice through the medium of public theology for communities hurt by racial injustice;

  • Demonstrated commitment to the vision of the Collaborative through prior community involvement, through written publication, or a strongly stated desire to discern vocation in this area;

  • A draft budget for your proposed project including a narrative statement for the amount sought with a breakdown of each component, not to exceed $10,000.00;

  • A letter of recommendation from an academic advisor, clergy person and/or community organizer submitted directly to the associate director under separate cover;

  • A detailed description of the timeline for your project and the methodology, whether inter-disciplinary, multi-cultural, theoretical, or some combination of the three. Situate your proposed project within the context of the present moment in American culture, inclusive of its jurisprudence, as well as its economic, sociological, political, and/or theoretical tensions. Demonstrate in your proposal narrative the ways in which your proposed project fits the goals and objectives of the Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative as reflected in its statement of commitment found here.

  • There is no maximum page limit; however, applicants are advised to give sufficient detail and narrative in order to justify the award sought with definable objectives, projected outcomes, and impact analysis.

Awards ranging from $5,000.00 to $10,000.00 will be made to exceptional proposals during the academic year with performance to extend up to 12 months from the date of award. Interested students should submit the requested information to Associate Director, Teresa Smallwood, JD, PhD at the following address: This information should be transmitted in one single file as an MS Word document. Collaborative Fellows will be selected by a committee consisting of the Director, Dean Emilie M. Townes, Postdoctoral Fellow/Associate Director, Dr. Teresa Smallwood, and 3 members selected from the Collaborative’s Planning Committee.

DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION: September 20, 2019 by 11:59 pm


USE RESTRICTIONS: NONE – Submit Questions to Dr. Smallwood