The public is invited 7 p.m. Monday, April 22 to hear Dr. Luther Smith Jr.,  Professor Emeritus of Church and Community at Emory University, deliver the 2019 Spalding University Keenan Lecture – an annual discussion of the religious themes that is sponsored by the School of Liberal Studies and the Community for Peace and Spiritual Renewal.

The Keenan Lecture, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the Egan Leadership Center’s Troutman Lectorium.

Dr. Smith, a noted scholar of the philosopher, theologian and spiritual visionary Howard Thurman, will give a lecture titled “Becoming Our True Selves at the Borders,” in which he’ll explain his belief that our lives are fulfilled when we make connections with people from backgrounds and perspectives different from those most familiar to us.

The Keenan Lecture is the first of two on-campus events to feature Dr. Smith. At 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 23, the day after the Keenan Lecture, Spalding and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are partnering to present a free screening of the documentary “Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story” at the Columbia Gym Auditorium, 824 S. Fourth St. Afterward, Dr. Smith, new LPTS President Dr. Alton Pollard and the film’s director, Martin Doblmeier, will participate in a public Q&A about Thurman.

We spoke with Dr. Smith about the upcoming Keenan Lecture as well as Thurman’s legacy.

What do you have planned for the Keenan Lecture?

The focus will be on how our lives are not just enriched but, I think, fulfilled when we are experiencing the differences beyond our normal familiar relationships, especially those relationships that are in some way strongly related to how we’ve grown up and the kind of paths we’ve been on professionally. I think especially for students in education, for many of them, the extent to which they have found themselves primarily not just associating with but developing  real connections with persons who often fit their sort of demographic, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Life really is, I think, most fulfilled with these kinds of connections that we have that are beyond what is familiar to us. It relates then to how what is not familiar to us often becomes that which we fear and that which we actively resist and that which we make abstract and stereotype. So basically another way that another that we could express this is, how do we get to beloved community? Beloved community depends upon our capacity to go beyond our own borders and experience the unfamiliar, to experience what’s at the margins of our lives and at the margins of our relationships in ways that, I think, expand the heart.

MORE | Explore the academic offerings of the School of Liberal Studies

The title of the lecture is, “Becoming Our True Selves at the Borders.” The word, “borders,” is that referring to borders in a human sense, as in the borders of our selves, or is it referring to actual physical borders that we hear a lot about nowadays?

It would be both. I’ve worked with the terms “borders” and “boundaries,” and they have basically the same meaning, but one of the implications of the word, “borders,” is that it’s something that’s really reinforced with guards or guardians, but it’s something that tends to be truly reinforced to the point that it’s secure in keeping out that which we often fear. But it also is the thing that enables us to sometimes feel as if we’re secure where we are. So I prefer the term “borders,” and I mean it both senses – the way in which we are speaking about it politically today in terms of a national border being secure but also the ways in which we all have our racial, ethnic, religious and class borders.

From a topical sense in today’s political climate, I gather that you think we should extend beyond those borders?

Oh, yes. I’m thinking especially two major theologians of the 20th century. One is Paul Tillich, who talked about the most creative places for us are at the margins, and not just at the center. This is not to denounce the significance of the center, but it’s at the margins in which we find ourselves in expanding our minds and our hearts and our understanding. And also (the theologian) Howard Thurman, who indicated that the death of any community occurs – the death of many biological units – when it perceives itself to be in some way self-sufficient, and it’s only when it’s connected outside of itself that it is nourishes. Otherwise, it begins to feed on itself. This occurs, I think, in all types of communities, religious communities, political communities, social communities. So this understanding of just what may be a fundamental principle of life, I think, is to be grasped by us and lived by us if we’re truly going to be fulfilled persons – and for those who are religious, I think – faithful persons.

For anyone coming to the lecture who may not be familiar with Howard Thurman, explain how his teachings and writings have influenced you.

Just about every audience I’m in, those who are familiar with Thurman are in the minority, but it would be wonderful if (that wasn’t case). As a bit of background, the first book-length critical work on Thurman (titled Howard Thurman: The Mystic as Prophet)  was done by me in the late 1970s and was published in 1981. Before then, we didn’t have any critical work on Thurman; we had a biography of Thurman. It’s really been a delight to see how interest in Thurman through scholarship has grown since then. The Howard Thurman Papers Project is the second-longest papers project on an African-American. It’s second only to the Martin Luther King Papers Project. You have a number of persons who have done their dissertations and done published works on Thurman. There are conferences that are focusing Thurman’s work, and, of course, now we have this documentary that has been telecast nationwide on PBS. I think Thurman’s legacy is worthy of that kind of attention. I was drawn especially by his focus on what constitutes vital community as well as what constitutes the vital self. You can even see that influence in the title of the topic that I’ll be presenting when I’m there.

I became familiar with Thurman right in the midst of the Black Power and black theology movement and found in Thurman an emphasis on community that was certainly expressed through those various movements but also an emphasis on attending to the self, one’s self and the self of others, which was not as prominent a dimension of those movements. And Thurman, I believed and continue to believe, has a more holistic dimension of what contributes to vital community as well as vital individuals. It’s a neutrality. You don’t have vital individuals without attending to a vital community. Neither do you have vital community without attending to the vital self. Thurman captured that for me with a kind of insight about faith. And this was also very important to me in terms of Thurman: The vital insight about faith being that which certainly nourishes us and empowers us for being engaged in both transformation of community as well as the fulfillment of self, but a faith that itself is being transformed. That it’s not just a faith that is in some way enacting doctrine, or not just in some way enacting what one believes to be the fundamentals of the faith. The faith itself is transforming. There is a dynamic quality to our believing that is hopefully reflecting that dynamic quality of God. It’s Thurman’s way of perceiving the religious dimension of life aligned with the social dimension of life as well as the personal dimension that for me has been very holistic, very nurturing. It some ways it was the path I was traveling before I became equated with Thurman through my own family relationships, but Thurman all the more enriched that path for me, and I’m deeply indebted to the way I’m able to walk with him.

As for the Keenan Lecture, what kind of person do you foresee who would enjoy and should attend the lecture?

I’m thinking of students, faculty, staff who understand that the quest for a fulfilled life has its many challenges as well as opportunities and how making one’s way to the border is a way to do that.

The next night, during the documentary screening, why do you think people should be interested in coming to watch it and hearing the panel that you’ll be on?

Thurman’s legacy is for us. And in terms of many of the current challenges we’re having about how to be a pluralistic society that honors people’s distinctive contributions and also holds together at its center, I think Thurman provides us a way to do that, a way to both celebrate our differences, not just have our differences and tolerate our differences. There’s a way to celebrate our differences as well as a way in which we can increasingly celebrate becoming community. I think the other approaches that are not emphasizing that fail us – the whole idea that the only way in which we become community is through assimilation. There is always some measure of assimilation involved in the formation of community, but the notion that people must assimilate into what is and somehow or another leave at the border the gifts of their culture or the gifts of their nation or the gifts of their inner city, I think is a failed formula. And it’s a formula that will doom us. Thurman, I think, provides us a way that is worthy of us and is worthy of the energy that will require the transformation of our lives and hearts for it to be enacted by us. It’s a really a challenge to all of us about the kinds of decisions that we’re making about how we’re going to be living our way not only into the future but what kind of decisions are we making day by day to prepare to be moving into the future faithfully, to be moving into the future that is worthy of us.

The Rev. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, who is the faculty chair of theology at Bellarmine University, will give the Spalding University Keenan Lecture from 7-8:30 p.m. March 27, 2018  in the lectorium of the Egan Leadership Center, 901 S. Fourth St. It’s a free, public event.

Hinson-Hasty is an author and a frequent public speaker on the church’s role in addressing issues of social and economic justice. You can read her professional bio and curriculum vitae at this link.

The title of her lecture will be “Insights from the World’s Great Religious Traditions for an Alternative Social Logic,” and Hinson-Hasty will discuss why she reframes the debates over poverty, wealth inequalities and the destruction of our natural environment from the perspective of the problem of wealth. As the lecture title suggests, she’ll offer insights from religious traditions for an alternative social logic about the issues of wealth.

She plans to spend most of the second half of the lecture taking questions from the audience. Those attending or interested in the subject matter are encouraged to use the hashtag #imagineweareone on social media.

The Keenan Lecture is an annual discussion of religious themes that’s presented by Spalding’s School of Liberal Studies.

Hinson-Hasty is author of three books, including most recently last summer’s “The Problem of Wealth: A Christian Response to a Culture of Affluence.” Her Keenan Lecture will be related to topics in that book. She also wrote “Dorothy Day for Armchair Theologians” in 2014 and “Beyond the Social Maze: Exploring Vida Dutton Scudder’s Theological Ethics” in 2006. She was a c0-editor of two other books, both published in 2008 – “Prayers for a New Social Awakening” and “To Do Justice: Engaging Progressive Christians in Social Action.”

Here’s an interview with Hinson-Hasty that gives more insight on what to expect from her lecture.

Can you summarize some of what you hope to talk about?

What I’m interested in doing is to highlight why I framed the issue of wealth inequalities and responses to poverty as the problem of wealth. But then in the lecture, I also want to emphasize what religious traditions offer as an alternative. So I’ll highlight at Islamic banking and look at Buddhist ecomonics as well as give some specific examples of things people have done to address wealth inequalities. My hope is to really get into conversation with people about what the alternatives may look like. There are some examples in the book, “The Problem of Wealth,” that actually come from the Louisville area, and I’ll offer some of those specific examples.

How do you describe what your newest book is about?

It is about reframing debates on poverty and wealth inequalities from the perspective of how we create wealth and why that matters. I look at the two dominant forms of wealth creation in the U.S. but also the larger global economy and highlight the impact, particularly, of how neoliberalism arguably accelerates poverty and creates poverty in the U.S. and worldwide. So it’s a challenge to that to think about, what then are the policies and also the practices that invite us to live by an alternative social logic?

Everyone is invited and encouraged to come obviously, but who more specifically are the types of people you think would be interested in coming to hear your Keenan Lecture?

Definitely religious leaders. Also, I recently gave a series of lectures related to the book at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and who came there were economists on the faculty and also local people who are involved in alternative forms of businesses, you know, smaller businesses. I would say who would be interested would be anyone who is concerned about wealth inequality and the impact on U.S. society and what that means to basic necessities like education and food. There are a variety of groups.

Why do you think people should look at religious traditions to extrapolate lessons about economics and societal issues?

Primarily, because historically, economics is always taught alongside history, moral philosophy or theology. It wasn’t until the late 19th or early 20 century that the disciplines were separated. Actually it’s more recent that the Western academy has separated out economics as a standalone discipline. The term “economics” is rooted in the Greek work, “oikos,” which means household. In theological writings, that refers to managing right relationships in God’s household. … What I’m trying to do is to reclaim that earlier emphasis (of economics being tied to other disciplines). It’s just to say, OK, I’m a religious leader and a theologian, but economics and business and wealth creation shouldn’t be separate from questions of ethics and philosophy and theology and history and other disciplines. I think that partly is what has led to the huge wealth divide that we see in the U.S. and globally today. We have to bring the conversation back into the kind of complex web that really it’s mired in.

Your book describes learning “the ethic of enough.” Can you speak to that?

There are a number of questions raised about that in the book, even about how we define what wealth is. In U.S. society, we think about wealth as a material success. But that’s not true in all cultures. We’re kind of impoverished in that way in the U.S. that we’re not as well-aware that wealth is also abundance in relationships and understanding that we’re part of the larger web of life. From others’ perspective, that’s part of our poverty.  … All the world’s great religions really question if the unlimited right of individuals to increase their own wealth is a good in itself. You see in each of the religious traditions a kind of alternative social logic that emerges.


2018 Spalding Keenan lecture graphic - a road sign that points to 'poverty' in one direction and 'wealth' in the other. Lecture is March 27, 7-8:30 p.m.
The 2018 Keenan Lecture by Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty will focus on ways to decrease disparities in poverty and wealth.

With Black History Month in February set to wrap up, it’s an appropriate time to point out that Spalding has expanded its academic offerings within the School of Liberal Studies this year to include a minor in African-American studies .

The minor requires 18 credit hours of coursework in African-American studies and other disciplines such as history, anthropology, English and religious studies.

Required courses include the new Introduction to African-American Studies (AAS 201) and African Civilizations (AAS 300), along with African-American History I (HIST 383).

The School of Liberal Studies describes the new minor this way:

Students who complete the minor in African-American Studies will explore and articulate the historical, social, political, religious, and literary experiences of African-Americans within the broader context of American and global culture, and critically examine the role of African-Americans in the development of the United States. Through this interdisciplinary minor, students will gain enhanced perspectives and awareness of diverse cultures, and the skills to critically examine, through written and oral reflection, historical and contemporary issues related to race, gender, power, class, social inequality, and social justice. The African-American Studies Minor prepares students to enter into and flourish within the global marketplace and community. 

‘Fertile ground’ for learning

Spalding history instructor Deonte Hollowell teaches African-American history courses at Spalding and helped organize the curriculum for the African-American studies minor.  Hollowell has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Pan-African studies from the University of Louisville and a doctorate in African-American studies from Temple University.

He said the minor was created out of the passion for the subject matter shared by him and Liberal Studies Faculty Chair Pattie Dillon, a history professor whose courses include a class examining the Jim Crow era (HIST 330).

Hollowell said students have become increasingly interested in the new minor as word about it has spread. He said he has a packed class this term for one of his African-American history courses.

“I think people want that body of knowledge,” Hollowell said, “and when people take my courses and realize it’s about more than just African-American history and facts and a survey type of information and (see that) it’s really about the overall black experience, I think people are interested in taking these courses.”

Hollowell said an African-American studies minor would be a useful complement to many majors on campus, especially if a student’s future profession involves working closely with African-American communities.

“This is a way for you to boost your major,” Hollowell said, “and to have some kind of certification to say you’re qualified to work within this population of folks.”

Students majoring in liberal studies can also make African-American studies their disciplinary concentration.

He said the geographic location of Spalding in downtown Louisville and its mission of embracing compassion, diversity and identity make the university “a fertile ground for something that African-American studies can provide for students.”

Hollowell hopes to see African-American studies offerings at Spalding grow. He mentioned potentially developing a future course on the history of African-American communities and police.

Hollowell would also like to see Spalding eventually try to develop an institute based around African-American studies that would engage the community and that could be a “hub for political activism and an academic and intellectual exchange.”

New courses being offered at Spalding

AAS 201 – The Introduction to African-American Studies: This course traces the black intellectual experience as it manifests on American college campuses.

AAS 300 – African Civilizations: This course provides a survey of Africa’s contributions to world history and civilization beginning around 5000 B.C.E. up to the modern era.

AAS 385 – Special Topics in African American Studies: These courses cover a variety of new themes in African-American Studies inquiry and are offered on an occasional basis.

AAS 349 – Praxis in African-American Studies: This course offers students an opportunity to investigate issues that affect African-Americans in Louisville. Students will work with selected community organizations to work toward negotiations on legislative matters. They will also network with grassroots leaders in the community to research and solve social ills.

ENG 310 – Topics in Sociocultural Linguistics: Through a variety of topics in sociocultural and applied linguistics, students will inquire into critical issues such as language variations among different ethnic groups, linguistic identities, language attitudes and prejudices and others.

Learn more about the School of Liberal Studies at

History instructor Deonte Hollowell
History instructor Deonte Hollowell