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America is in a kairos moment. It is a time of immense reflection, equipping, and mobilization. The Public Theology and Racial Justice Collaborative’s Summer Institute is designed to be the gathering place for those who discern the time. We are calling all scholars, students, clergy, community activists, community organizers, politicians, concerned citizens, artists, and strategists to Nashville, Tennessee for the convening of the first cohort of what we envision to be a think tank of leaders invested in the soul of our democracy. Public theology is the lens through which we will engage the issues of our times with scholastic vigor, intense debate, sound reasoning, and measured, thoughtful engagement for the purpose of impacting our communities with the strong meta-narrative that emphasizes the inherent worth and dignity of every human being and advances the cause of racial minorities. The Summer Institute is designed as a Vanderbilt emersion experience where you will engage the life of the University, its unique landscape, its technology, and its multiple venues for learning while sharing best practices from racial justice proponents from around the country. Our aim this year is to equip participants to engage a wide public on the issues presented to racial minorities in the mid-term elections.

If you, in your community, have experienced hatred and bigotry because you are a racial or ethnic minority or if you are an advocate for those who have experienced vitriolic rhetoric, hate crimes, disdain, othering, intolerance, and discrimination, this Summer Institute is for you. We have assembled an impressive array of scholars, students, clergy, activists, community organizers, politicians, concerned citizens, artists, and strategists to share best practices, equip you to engage a wide public through media training, historical as well as political analysis, and sound theological foundation.

The Institute will run two separate tracks during this week. You may pick which track you wish to apply for admission. We will provide media training and community organizing training to all participants. Track I will focus upon “Social Trauma, Social Death.” From the brainchild of Orlando Patterson, we will delve into the intricacies of ideological sociality, which operates to divide and conquer racial minorities in this country. Track II will focus upon “The Power of Truth Telling: Stories and Practices from the Front Line.” Drawing from the seminal work of social scientist, Brené Brown, this week will focus upon what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the “danger of a single story.” This focus upon truth-telling is aimed at centering revolutionary ideals about faith and future in the age-old practice of inter-relational and communal respect for human dignity. Building upon the theme of Public Theology as a vehicle, each track will assemble the building blocks of community mapping and community assessment for maximum impact on the issues facing the plural demography of racial minorities and the political issues prominent in their quests for success.


Cost to Attend Summer Institute

  • $500 for non-student participants
  • $125 for current students and alumni
  • Participants will be eligible for a small scholarship to help defray the cost of the Institute
    • For alumni and non-student participants, we will offer scholarships at a 10% discount
    • Non-VU students will be eligible for a scholarship at 40% of the $500 registration fee
    • Scholarships will be limited to the first 50 students and the first 100 non-student registrants

If the Summer Institute is taken for course credit, the tuition is $2730 for 3.0 credit hours. VU students can waive the registration fee if taking the course for credit. Non-VU students are eligible for the student discount. Non-VU students must apply for non-degree admission with the Admissions office and will have to follow this process:

Non-Degree Students and Auditors

Students who do not intend to enroll in a degree program may register for a limited number of courses as an auditor or as a non-degree student.

Applying as a Non-Degree Student

Non-degree students at Vanderbilt Divinity School must apply using the non-degree online application. Non-degree students may register by permission of the Academic Dean. They receive academic credit and a transcript for their coursework but are not eligible to receive financial aid.

Steps to Apply as a Non-Degree Student: (A printable version may be found HERE.)

  1. Initiate a Non-Degree student application online: apply.vanderbilt.edu .
  2. Alert the Office of Admissions that your non-degree application has been initiated. Our office will manually waive many of the regular application requirements to expedite submission.
  3. Complete the specific application requirements for the non-degree application.

Applications and supporting documents must be completed and on file in the Office of Admissions by May 1, 2018.

Course Offerings

Track I: Social Trauma, Social Death

Mass Incarceration and Racial Justice: A Theo-Ethics of Restoration

Rev. Dr. Christophe Ringer – Chicago Theological Seminary

This course will contextualize the problem of mass incarceration for both its theological implications and its ethical implications with an eye toward marrying theory with praxis. In identifying ways that the collaboration of clergy, community activists, scholars, students, politicians, and concerned citizens can effectively impact the phenomena when armed with the theoretical and the practical, the course will examine some tools of engagement where restorative justice frames the theo-ethical model for resistance.

Social Trauma, Social Death: Implications for Post-Modern Advocacy

Rev. Dr. Traci Blackmon and Rev. Dr. Forrest Harris

This course will examine the twin evils of systemic oppression and silence as complicity in evaluating the effects of prolonged trauma on racial minorities. The role of faith communities will be explored historically and sociologically to identify the myriad ways that public theology and racial justice pre-figure as technological modalities of effective social change theory through the operationalizing of useful advocacy interventions.

Self-Care for the Frontlines: Revival of the Fittest

Dr. Phillis I. Sheppard – Vanderbilt Divinity School

This course will offer a comprehensive survey of theological theory and psychoanalytic practical compassion for the exploration into the dimensions of racial justice as the pioneering conceptual work that pairs boundary-pushing with self-care.


Track II: The Power of Truth-Telling: Stories and Practices from the Frontlines

The Education Divide: The National Move Toward Privatized Education

Dr. Nicole Joseph

This course will plumb the line of demarcation between the advances of public education since Brown v. Board of Education and the present moment focused specifically on the concerted effort to turn public education into a private industry and the implications of such a turn on racial minorities.

Hope, Empowerment, Inclusion: Participatory Community Health Organizing

Dr. Carol Zeigler, PhD, NP-C, Vanderbilt School of Nursing & Meharry Medical College

This course will examine the impact of healthcare disparities on racialized communities using case studies, journalism, and collaboration to identify models for organizing communities around healthcare issues that disparately impact racial minorities.

uBuntu, Missio Dei, Justice, and Socio-Humanitarian Action

Dr. José Cossa – Peabody College, Vanderbilt University

This course will expose participants to a comparative and international approach to examining racial injustices through cultural and educational policy studies focused upon local governmental instrumentality, power dynamics, global and social justice, organizational leadership, organizational assessment, strategic planning, and cultural mainstreaming.

Both Tracks Will Attend These Courses

Religion and Public Life

Dr. David Kyuman Kim

This course will explore the theoretical beachheads of “political order” and religion as the precursors to a national move toward “the political” as telos for values, ideals, and collective identities that shape agency and move society towards authoritarianism.

Media Tools for Advocacy

Macky Alston, Auburn Seminary

This course will train participants to develop effective sound bites for racial justice advocacy. Participants will be exposed to the in-depth media techniques that maximize the impact of a broad range of media interviews, inclusive of television appearances, news publications, radio programs, blogs, and podcasts. Participants will be given interviewing coaching and on-camera practice that prepares them to confidently speak truth to power.


2018 Public Theology and Racial Justice Summer Institute Application

First Name *
First Name
Last Name *
Last Name
Do you have community organizing experience? If so, please share examples.
Short essay: What do you see as the role of Public Theology in the quest for Racial Justice in America?
Do you have media experience (public relations, interacting with press, etc.)? If so, please share examples.
Share with us a little about your current work (highlight specific public theology and/or racial justice connection).
Which track are you most interested in? *
Please note that if your chosen track is full, you will be placed in the remaining track.