Rev. Justin G. West, member of the first cohort of students in the PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric, has been awarded a fellowship from the Forum for Theological Exploration.
The Forum for Theological Exploration (FTE) is “a leadership incubator that inspires young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities.” An important part of its work involves financially supporting diverse students and providing opportunities for leadership development. To that end, FTE offers fellowships “to sustain current Ph.D. and Th.D. students of color through graduate school and into a vocation of teaching and scholarship.”
Originally from Kansas, Rev. West completed his MDiv at Fuller Theological Seminary, where he concentrated in African American Church Studies under the direction of Dr. Ralph Watkins. He was first introduced to FTE then, and received a Ministry Fellowship for his second year of seminary. After briefly studying abroad in Birmingham, UK, Rev. West and his wife settled in Aurora, IL. He has served as Youth Minister at St. John AME Church of Aurora and as the Executive Director of Agape Connection, Inc., a non-profit organization that provides cultural educational programming for African American youth. He currently directs the Sankofa Saturday School of History, Culture, and Creativity, a branch of the Agape Connection. Rev. West expressed a generative relationship between his academic training and his ecclesial leadership, explaining, “I intend for my academic pursuits to inform and serve my calling in ministry and to allow my experiences in ministry to raise questions that sharpen and focus my scholarship.”
Rev. West explained that he is pursuing the PhD Program in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric at CTS for “the opportunity to broaden and deepen my knowledge of the diversity of African American traditions and expand my capacity to describe and interpret them, preserve them for posterity, and expose them to future church leaders and theological educators.” He said he was also excited for the opportunity to study with Prof. Frank Thomas. Among the highlights of his experiences in the program thus far, he noted the “brilliant, supportive, humble cohort of colleagues,” the compelling vision of Prof. Frank Thomas, and “the work of so many to implement an sustain the program, including that of Aimée Laramore, Amelia Walker, Allilah Williams, and other faculty, staff, and administration.”
Rev. West’s research interests revolve around the preaching of Howard Thurman. Rev. West explained his interest in exploring the relationship of Thurman’s preaching to the African American preaching traditions, and his plans to perform rhetorical analyses of Thurman’s distinctive homiletical approach. He explained that, “there seems to be renewed scholarly interest in Thurman across many disciplines. Because I believe Thurman speaks to some of the concerns we are facing in our contemporary world, I am interested in specifically probing the resources his preaching offers theological leaders of emerging generations.”
About the FTE fellowship, Rev. West said, “I join a community of scholars and practitioners who are doing creative and important work in theological education and the church.” The fellowship has allowed him to participate in FTE’s annual leadership forum, which pairs current and past fellows to discuss doctoral studies, vocation, and next steps after completing their respective academic programs. He said, “I am grateful for the community of emerging scholars to which I now belong. In my short time as a fellow, I have received rich wisdom and inspiration from my FTE colleagues and mentors. In addition, the financial assistance of the fellowship has been a tremendous support to me, my wife, and our four children.”
Congrats Rev. West!
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