The Contours and Configurations of Black Religious Rhetoric

The Center for the Study of African American Rhetoric and Public Address and Memphis Theological Seminary will sponsor the Contours and Configurations of Black Religious Rhetoric on February 15, 2021, at 6:00pm CST via Zoom. Chaired by Dr. Andre E. Johnson, Associate Professor of  Communication and Scholar in Residence at the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the University of Memphis, the symposium will highlight research from graduate students and emerging scholars of Black religious rhetoric. The event is free, but we are asking that viewers "register" to receive the Zoom link. To register in advance for this free webinar, click here.

There will be a Q and A after the presentations. 

Andre E. Johnson, Moderator 

Andre E. Johnson is an Associate Professor of Communication and Scholar in Residence at the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. Dr. Johnson is the author of “The Forgotten Prophet: Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and the African American Prophetic Tradition (Lexington Books, 2012) the co-author (with Amanda Nell Edgar, Ph.D.) of “The Struggle Over Black Lives Matter and All Lives Matter” (Lexington Books, 2018), and the author of “No Future in this Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (University Press of Mississippi, 2020).

Moya Harris

Rev. Moya Harris is an Itinerant Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, currently serving as the Executive Minister and Minister to Women at Metropolitan AME Church in Washington, DC. She is the current Sojourners Fellowship Program Director, overseeing each cycle of fellows that live in intentional community while working in entry-level positions within the organization, giving spiritual guidance and pastoral support.

Rev. Harris has served in many different ministerial capacities over the 15 plus years she has served in ministry. While she did not grow up in the church, having accepted Christ as a young adult, she can now see God’s calling throughout her life. She also is a registered nurse with over 27 years’ experience, specializing in cardiac catheterization nursing. She earned a bachelor’s in Science Degree in Nursing from Towson State University and a Master of Divinity Degree from Payne Theological Seminary and is currently a Ph.D. student in the African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at Christian Theological Seminary. 

Title: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life—The Theorhetorical Nature of Club Quarantine


In this presentation, I examine the phenomenon of DJ D-Nice's Club Quarantine. Drawing from the tenants of rhetorical theology and theomusicology, I flesh out the notion of the realms of the sacred, secular, and profane to discuss the nature of the DJ or disc jockey in hip hop and pop culture. In all, it is my aim that this paper will show that in Black culture there is no separation between the sacred and the secular. Even further, it is hopeful that through the theories of rhetorical theology and the field of theomusicology, that the holiness Club Quarantine will be visualized, thereby supporting my argument of the movement’s theorhetorical nature and relevance in this pandemic culture and is homiletical in nature.

Richard Bray

Rev. Richard Bray has worked in higher education, congregations, non-profit sectors, and as a consultant. In higher education, he has worked to help underrepresented students and their families realize that attending and graduating from a university is achievable. As well as, fostering relationships between the university and community stakeholders to support resident-driven plans and initiatives that support their quality of life. As a consultant, he helps clients and congregations study the feasibility of projects and programs that impact community and congregants’ overall well-being. 

He earned a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Education degrees from Ohio University. Also, a Master of Divinity degree from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Indiana. Rev. Bray is a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) candidate in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary. 

Title: Affirmed in Word and Deed 


This paper uses Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) to analyze Rev. Dr. Robert Dungy’s sermon manuscript “Affirmed in Word and Deed.” This sermon was delivered as his inaugural sermon at predominately white Sunnycrest United Methodist Church as a cross-racial appointment. More specifically, the paper explores the hidden expressions of welcoming, inclusion, and power relations that have been encoded in Dungy’s sermon. The main research question is: what are the inclusive meanings Dungy tries to communicate through his sermon?

The paper draws on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), as discussed in the writings of Van Dijk (2001). The analysis covers two levels of analysis: the lexical level and social context of analysis. Both levels are discussed under the theoretical umbrella of CDA.

This paper is important because it explores how religious rhetoric can disrupt social norms present in the local congregation and society. The rhetoric used supports the creation of multiracial congregations and communities as a moral, ethical, and theological imperative. Using CDA strategies, the paper reveals that Dungy managed to communicate particular theological meanings that reflect his inclusive stance. as well as his hopeful spirit who struggles against racial discrimination in the United Methodist Church and the United States.

R. Janae Pitts-Murdock

Pastor Janae Pitts-Murdock currently serves as the Senior Pastor at Light of the World Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis, Indiana. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Studies, Carnegie Mellon University with a Master of Science degree in Public Policy & Management, United Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity degree, and The University of Memphis with a Master of Business Administration. She is also currently a candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at Christian Theological Seminary.

Title: Black Liberation Rhetoric and Christian Proclamation: Rev. C.L. Franklin and The Meaning of Black Power


Rev. C.L. Franklin, a noted figure in the Black Baptist folk tradition, models rhetorical excellence in his instrumental use of ideographs and management of the rhetorical situation in which he delivers this 1969 sermon, “The Meaning of Black Power.” This essay uncovers how Franklin articulates Black Power conceptions in content and form, taking seriously the rhetorical situation and his distinct rhetorical signature. Despite competing conceptions of Black Power operating in the environment, and an antecedent ethos that undermines Franklin’s authority concerning Black liberation rhetoric, Franklin maneuvers rhetorical obstacles, ultimately producing a somewhat liberating message proclaiming God’s hope for African Americans.

Earle Fisher

Rev. Dr. Earle J. Fisher is a native of Benton Harbor, Michigan. A Movement and ministry leader in Memphis and beyond, Dr. Fisher holds a Bachelor of Science Degree in Computer Science from LeMoyne-Owen College and a Master of Divinity Degree from Memphis Theological Seminary. Dr. Fisher received his Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Memphis in 2018 and teaches Religious Studies, Communication and African American Studies at several local colleges and universities. Pastor Earle is also the Senior Pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Memphis, TN, and founder of #UPTheVote901 – a nonpartisan voter empowerment initiative committed to expanding political power and increasing voter turnout in Memphis and Shelby County. Dr. Fisher is the 2019-2020 Henry Logan Starks Fellow at Memphis Theological Seminary and the Political Science Research Fellow at the University of Memphis. Dr. Fisher's work focuses on Black Rhetoric, Black Preaching, Black Radical Politics, and the work of Rev. Albert Cleage, Jr.

Title: Introducing Sermonic Militancy – A Call Towards More Revolutionary Homiletics and Hermeneutics


The purpose of this essay is to build upon and expand the work of Dr. Frank A. Thomas’s book, How to Preach a Dangerous Sermon, and extend the boundaries of prophetic rhetoric to more readily identify militancy within the scope of the sacred. This work will not necessarily delineate how to produce sermonic militancy vis-a-vis rhetorical invention. The work will, instead, honor the instructive nature of sermonic militancy and help us to acknowledge our propensity to erase, reduce, minimize and demonize more militant rhetorical presentations (sermonic and otherwise) which are necessary for the full scope of black liberation projects and social movements to be actualized.