The Center for the Study of African American Religious Life

Explore Initiative

Through promoting innovative scholarship, producing public programs, and collecting religious artifacts, the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life will expand the ways religion is acknowledged and explored by our nation’s research and cultural institutions.

Religion has served a central role in shaping African American history and culture, yet it receives little attention or study in our nation’s museums. The Center will provide a critical platform of resources and convening opportunities to a global community of faith and religious leaders, publics, and scholars.

The Center for the Study of African American Religious Life organizes public events that explore religion’s place in African American history and culture and the contemporary roles and needs of faith leaders, organizations, and African American communities.

Visit the Museum's calendar of events for a list of upcoming programs and follow our UStream channel to watch archives of our past programs.

gOD Talk

gOD Talk is a groundbreaking project spearheaded by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture Center for the Study of African American Religious Life in association with Pew Research Center. The project will be a series of conversations is aimed at uncovering how millennials interact with religion and the transformative nature of community, the internet, and space. Featuring leading millennial voices, gOD Talk will amplify their individual and shared experiences in a  curated conversation that will be streamed to online audiences.

gOD Talk is a multi-city event that will have programming through 2019. Programming from each city will provide Pew and the National Museum of African American History and Culture with vital information that correlates with ongoing research happening at each institution.  The series will culminate with the production of a feature documentary film and corresponding oral histories to be released and available for accessioning into the Museum’s collection

The gOD Talk series will be piloted in the summer on Friday, August 24, 2018, at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles, California and kick-off officially on January 26, 2019 on the campus of Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia.



Past events:

MLK 50: A Requiem for a King


Friday, April 6, 2018
7:00pm – 10:00pm

The Center for the Study of African American Religious Life (CSAARL) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture will commemorate the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In a presentation of soul-stirring words and music, performed by Mr. Darin Atwater and Soulful Symphony, we will pay homage to Dr. King, a global statesman and martyred prophet whose teachings and example continue to illumine the pathway to justice, peace, and love. This event will be streamed live.

About the Evening Concert:

Music played an indispensable role in the Civil Rights Movement. Like the proverbial “drum” in an African village, songs of praise and protest galvanized the community for heroic struggle. Before mass meetings and during long marches, spirituals and freedom songs infused the freedom fighters with courage and steely determination to dismantle Jim Crow segregation. There also was an enchanting musicality in the religiously-inspired rhetoric of the movement’s greatest prophet, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Even to this day, we recall many of Dr. King’s words not only because of what he said but also because of how he said it. From his speech at the March on Washington until his final words at Mason Temple Church in Memphis, Dr. King used rhetorical virtuosity and the sonorous symphony of his voice to inspire the movement and transform the world. Thus, music is a most fitting medium as we commemorate the costly sacrifices of our ancestors and assume their mantle as we sing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around…marchin’ up to freedom land!”

About Darin Atwater and Soulful Symphony:

In 2000, Mr. Darin Atwater founded Soulful Symphony, an 85-member orchestra with vocals, comprised of mostly African American and Latino musicians. After 10 very successful seasons of sell-out performances in a joint venture with the Baltimore Symphony, Soulful Symphony entered into a historic partnership with Broadway Across America. Soulful Symphony delivered another three seasons of sold- out performances at the Hippodrome Theatre before a triumphant return to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall to celebrate 15 years of translating the profound riches of black culture into music. The 2009 Emmy Award(r)–winning "Soulful Symphony with Darin Atwater" is one of the longest running pledge specials, airing currently nationwide on PBS/APT.

Recovering the Bones: African American Material Religion and Religious Memory

On Friday, October 27th and Saturday, October 28th the Center for the Study of African American Religious Life hosted a formal academic conference of 13 invited scholars with a focus on material religion within African American history and culture. Please visit the conference page to learn more about this event.

Explore the Collection

Discover objects from our collection that help to expand the ways religion is acknowledged and explored.