The Center for the Study of Black Faith & Life

The Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life (CSBFL) at Chicago Theological Seminary (CTS) was established in 2007 as an initiative in order to make CTS a more welcoming place for African Americans while making CTS a more responsible community partner by moving us from liberation rhetoric to working to liberate the oppressed. The Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life is the first center within a denominational seminary to seek connection with the larger Black Faith community inclusive of a variety of Black religions. The CSBFL is dedicated to inspiring and encouraging religious leaders committed to addressing the forces of oppression and dehumanization that plague the Black community and the world.

CSBFL Vision Statement

CTS shall be a responsible partner in the work of freedom and justice. The CTS Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life shall equip everyone, regardless of ethnicity, through research, critical examination, theological reflection, and contextual engagement to address the forces of oppression and dehumanization for the betterment of academy, church, and community. The Center shall motivate students to pursue degree programs with concentrations in Black faith and life and, thereby, promote a new generation of leaders who will embody faithfulness, critical reflection, and social justice by lifting high the African American heritage.


The Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life, a center of the Chicago Theological Seminary, empowers, equips, and encourages African American students to translate and integrate Black history and culture into a theological educational process that is committed to the liberation of Black people. The Center engages in research that synthesizes the various sources of knowledge in the community toward the development of transformative and effective faithful leaders in society. And the Center cultivates a new generation of leadership who will speak with a prophetic voice that lifts high the African American heritage of faith, freedom and justice.

Programmatic Goals

  • Public/Contextual Ministry
  • Parenthood/Guardianship/Sacredness and Responsibility to Children
  • Criminal Justice and Mass Incarceration
  • Womanist Public Leadership
  • Kenneth B. Smith Fellows (Consideration of connecting the CSBFL to the Legacy of Kenneth B. Smith)

The Center for the Study of Black Faith and Life: Courses


  • MDiv: Introduction to the Study of Black Faith & Life and 3 CSBFL electives.
  • STM: Introduction to the Study of Black Faith & Life and 3 CSBFL electives.
  • PhD: Introduction to the Study of Black Faith & Life and an approved Program of Study.
  • Certificate: Introduction to the Study of Black Faith & Life and 4 CSBFL electives.


Each year since 2007, the Center for the Study of Black Faith & Life has sponsored the C.
Shelby Rooks Lectures. Named for the first African-American to serve as president of a
predominately white theological school, the C. Shelby Rooks lecture launches a series of
programs, open to the community, that invites individuals and communities, lay, clergy, and
scholars to engage in religious and theological reflection on issues relevant to African-
American faith, freedom, and justice. In 2018 we celebrated The Life and Legacy of Rev. Dr.
Kenneth B. Smith Sr., noted Black UCC pastor who founded Trinity UCC, pastored Good
Shepherd and Park Manor and served as the 2nd Black president of Chicago Theological
Seminary. The presentation was given by Dr. Julia Speller.

  • 2007 Peter Paris C. Shelby Rooks’ Unfinished Revolution in Theological
    Education and Christian Ministry
  • 2008 Marcia Riggs Dreaming the Beloved Community in the 21st Century
  • 2009 Arthur Pressley Community Health, Spirituality, and African American
    Pastoral Care
  • 2010 Andrea White The Storied Self as Subversive Power: Womanist Theology
    and Narrative Identity
  • 2011 Charles Long The Secret of the Cargo: Understanding African American
  • 2012 Katie Cannon Revolutionaries in Zion: The Gumption to Challenge
    Dominated Forms of Knowledge Acquisition and Religious
  • 2013 Jonathan Walton The Du Boisian Dilemma: Sacrificing the Faith in Order to
    Save the Race
  • 2014 Renita Weems Preacher, Prophet, Professor, Public Intellectual:
    Transgressing Boundaries
  • 2015 Alton Pollard Life in the Valley of the Shadow of Death: A Parable for
    21st Century Black America
  • 2016 Marsha Foster Boyd Covenant Care: A Pastoral Care Response to Cascading
  • 2017 Raphael G. Warnock Black Theology, the Black Church and America’s Prison
    Industrial Complex
  • 2018 Jacqueline Lewis WWJD: Faithful Politics for Hot Mess Times
  • 2019 Darnell Moore Let’s Get Free: A case for Abolition Theology
  • 2020 Bree Newsome Bass Civic Courage For Such a Time as This

Black Faith Leader Collective

The Black Faith Leader Collective is the outgrowth of a special cohort established in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. The group formed after CTS was funded by a grant from the Henry LUCE Foundation in May 2020. CTS conducted listening sessions and one on one interviews to understand the unique challenges and needs facing these congregations and their respective communities. Initially CTS provided over 30 technology support grants along with pastoral counseling support services to the participating leaders.

Over 40 faith leaders serving the south and west sides of Chicago have continued to network and interface around pertinent issues impacting their communities of service. Our primary mission is to convene, educate and support each other through sustained networks, workshops and monthly informational gatherings. CTS hosts the Black Faith Leader Collective and provides a hospitable space for dialogue and cooperative learning experiences with high level leaders in a variety of sectors.

CTS has networked with interfaith leaders from 40 institutions on the Southside of Chicago. These are primarily congregations and community groups serving an average of 100 persons or more at a minimum. We are reaching leaders impacting a minimum of 4000 people collectively but with the expansion of online access for each of these institutions, the numbers are possibly even higher. We are connected with two major religious networks including the Chicago Council of Religious Leaders and the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.