On January 22, 2018, Dr. Brad R. Braxton began as the new Director of the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life (CSAARL) and the Supervisory Curator of Religion at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. He succeeds Dr. Yolanda Pierce, the inaugural Director of the Center, who was recently installed as Dean of Howard University School of Divinity. As Director, Braxton is responsible for the intellectual and managerial leadership of the Center as it promotes innovative scholarship, produces public programs, and collects artifacts relating to diverse African American religious practices and beliefs.
In September 2016, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opened to great public acclaim as the nineteenth museum of the Smithsonian Institution, which is the largest museum complex and research organization in the world. By establishing a center on religion as an integral part of this new museum, the Smithsonian emphasizes the indispensable role of religion in the African American journey and thus, by extension, in the broader American experience.
The diverse religious practices and beliefs of African Americans have shaped (and continue to shape) America’s moral imagination and social conscience. By convening diverse publics (in real and virtual spaces) who engage pluralistic dimensions of African American religion, the
CSAARL is creating a sturdy framework for enhancing the religious literacy of Americans. Irrespective of Americans’ religious affiliation or lack thereof, religious literacy is essential for an accurate and fulsome reading of the American story.
“I am honored to join a remarkable team of colleagues at the Center as we archive and interpret the historical and evolving religious legacy of African Americans. The intertwining of religion and race is a notable feature of African American experience, scholarly production, and social activism. Equipping scholars, religious practitioners, and the broader public with a sophisticated understanding of this intertwining and its impact on the ongoing struggle for African American equality is a contribution toward a more enlightened and compassionate world,” said Dr. Braxton.
Braxton comes to the Smithsonian as an accomplished scholar. He holds a Ph.D. in New Testament studies from Emory University, where he was a George W. Woodruff Fellow, a Master’s degree in theology from the University of Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, and a B.A. degree in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he was a Jefferson Scholar and a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Braxton is the author of three scholarly books and numerous essays exploring the intersection of religious practices and social justice. His books No Longer Slaves: Galatians and African American Experience and Preaching Paul are frequently used in divinity school courses. He also is a seasoned educator. He recently served as a lecturer in the Department of Theology at Georgetown University and a lecturer on ministry studies at Harvard Divinity School.
Additionally, he was a tenured, full professor at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, where he held the Lois Craddock Perkins Chair in preaching. He also has served as distinguished visiting scholar at McCormick Theological Seminary, a tenured associate professor at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, and an assistant professor at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.
Braxton is an ordained Baptist minister and a highly sought after lecturer and preacher in national and international contexts. In 2007, Braxton preached at Westminster Abbey in London, England. Only a select group of American ministers have had the privilege of preaching in that historic pulpit. His Westminster Abbey sermon on justice and non-violence was part of the bicentennial commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. He also has preached in Canada, Ghana, and South Africa.
His leadership has extended beyond the academy to the arenas of philanthropy and faith-based communities. He formerly served as the Program Officer for Religion in the Public Sphere at the Ford Foundation in New York City, the Senior Minister of the Riverside Church in New York City, and the Senior Pastor of Douglas Memorial Community Church in Baltimore, Maryland.
In 2011, Braxton founded The Open Church of Maryland, a culturally inclusive congregation in Baltimore committed to courageous social justice activism and compassionate interfaith collaboration. Braxton will continue as a visionary pastoral leader at The Open Church amid his duties at the Smithsonian Institution.