Tejai Beulah wants to dispel a potential misperception about the Black Church and African Diaspora Studies specialization that MTSO offers within the Master of Divinity degree.
"It should not just be for students of color," said Beulah, MTSO’s coordinator of partnerships and the Black Church specialization. "One of the reasons a specialization like this is needed is because in the broader narrative, these disciplines were shaped by white male scholars. We have to be mindful of the fact there were other people doing the work, and who continue to do the work.”
Students complete the specialization, one of seven offered within the M.Div. program, by taking 12 credit hours from a list of 14 courses, ranging from “Great Ethicists: Martin Luther King Jr.” to “Gender, Race, and Ecology in the Hebrew Bible.”
"From a church history perspective,” Beulah said, “if we're only hearing from the perspective of a John Wesley, we're missing out on the perspectives of figures such as Richard Allen, Old Elizabeth, and Jarena Lee.”
M.Div. student David Harris, who is earning the Black Church and African Diaspora Studies specialization, appreciates learning how the black church shaped figures well known in broader contexts: “You hear the stories of the Howard Thurmans and Martin Luther Kings in general, but understanding the theological dimensions takes you deeper than what you'd get in a normal history class. You learn about their involvement in the black church and how that shaped their understanding of the world."
Beulah said the study of the African diaspora also offers students a richer perspective as they embark on ministry.
“It is important that students develop an awareness of the many theological and spiritual experiences of black people around the globe,” she said. “There’s more than one way that people connect to God. Ultimately, we want students who are equipped to enter into another person’s experience, and to be able to develop authentic relationships with folks, even if they disagree theologically or politically.”
Beulah said the specialization offers valuable grounding for those who want to live out their commitment to social justice and activism as ministers and scholars.
"For example,” she said, “in the classes I teach, I want students to learn how race and religion has shaped the history of the United States, and take that knowledge to create churches and religious communities that will stand and agitate for justice, equality and inclusiveness.”
Studying the black church and African diaspora “forces you to look at how race and gender and class play a role in shaping whose story gets told,” Beulah said. “There's an African proverb that says, ‘Until the story of the hunt is told by the lion, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.’”