The Rev. Dr. R. Drew Smith earned his undergraduate degree from Indiana University, and earned his master of divinity, master of arts, and Ph.D. from Yale University. Both a political scientist and a clergyman, he has initiated and directed a number of projects related to religion and public life which have collected research data on political involvements, community development activities, and outreach ministries of churches, especially African-American churches. He has also conducted similar research in South Africa, including while serving in 2005 as a Fulbright professor at the University of Pretoria. His overseas involvements additionally include serving in 2009 as a Fulbright senior specialist at Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Cameroon and lecturing in many international venues including as part of the U.S. State Department’s Speakers Bureau. He has served since 2010 as co-convener of the Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race, an initiative that convenes scholars, religious leaders, and community activists from across the transatlantic region for purposes of advancing progressive approaches to persistent racial problems in various contexts. In addition, as a Baptist clergyman, he has ministered in a number of parish, prison, and campus ministry contexts.
Before coming to Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where he serves as professor of urban ministry, Dr. Smith was scholar-in-residence and director of Religion and Public Life Projects at the Leadership Center at Morehouse College. He has also served on the faculties of Indiana University and Butler University and as a visiting faculty member at Emory University and Case Western Reserve University.
He has published widely on religion and public life, having written numerous articles and chapters, and edited or co-edited nine books: New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America (2003); Long March Ahead: African American Churches and Public Policy in Post-Civil Rights America (2004); Black Churches and Local Politics (2005); Freedom’s Distant Shores: American Protestants and Post-Colonial Alliances with Africa (2006); From Every Mountainside: Black Churches and the Broad Terrain of Civil Rights (2013); Churches, Blackness, and Contested Multiculturalism: Europe, Africa, and North America (2014); Contesting Post-Racialism: Conflicted Churches in the U.S. and South Africa (2015); Religion, Culture, and Spirituality in Africa and the African Diaspora (2017); and Urban Ministry Reconsidered: Contexts and Approaches (2018). He has recently completed writing a book on contemporary black clergy activism under contract with Columbia University Press. Dr. Smith has also published on mass media platforms such as Religion News Service, Institute of the Black World, Christian Century, Capital Commentary, Emerge Magazine, Crisis Magazine, several newspapers, and online blogs such as Religion Dispatches and UrbanFaith.
Smith has received many honors and awards for his academic leadership, including selection in 2002 as an Emerging Leaders Fellow by a Duke University/University of Cape Town program on leadership and public values and selection in 2008 for an Indiana Governor’s Black Expo Leadership award. He is married with one adult daughter.
Drew Smith’s 2017 sabbatical “was both productive and centering—things that don’t always work together,” he notes. He goes on to explain that it was centering because it was “full of deep reflection and prayer.” It was productive because of a number of major projects he pursued.
Drew got an early, summer start on his first-term sabbatical activities with the seventh annual Transatlantic Roundtable on Religion and Race conference, for which he serves as co-convener. In 2017 the conference was held in the U.S. for the first time—at Howard University in Washington, D.C. “Pittsburgh Seminary was well represented at the Roundtable this year,” says Drew. “Four other faculty and staff, four Doctor of Ministry students, and a Master’s student participated as we focused on the theme of religion and globalization.”
Going forward, the conference will take place every other year to give the co-conveners more time to focus on the organization’s groundwork, which involves, for example, regional research groups. “In early December a Kenya-based Transatlantic Roundtable colleague and I received a grant through the Africa Theological Advance Initiative of Calvin College’s Nagel Institute that will boost this regional work,” Drew notes. During his sabbatical, he co-authored the $50,000, two-year grant to do research and applied work related to assessing cultural and Christian practices of reconciliation in East Africa.
“Beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, the grant will help fund a regionally based team to do field research in Northern Uganda and Nairobi (Kenya), and with South Sudanese who, because of the conflicts in Sudan, have had to relocate to Uganda and Kenya,” says Drew. “The East Africa research group will interview people affected by conflicts in South Sudan and Northern Uganda, as well as church leaders and community leaders engaged in peace and reconciliation efforts within those contexts.” The findings of this regional research group will comprise a large part of the reporting in the 2019 Transatlantic Roundtable conference, which will take place at Hekima College’s Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations. Hekima, where Drew’s research partner is based, is part of the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, a multi-campus university in Kenya.
Drew’s next big project partly related to this work will be writing a book that examines religious conflict in Africa against a backdrop of U.S.-Africa relations from the colonial era forward. “My examination will serve as a window on religious conflict both within Africa and between Africa and the U.S., but with a broader purpose of teasing out their respective conceptions of ‘the common good,’” Drew elaborates. His book will consider how Africans and Americans reflect on “the common good” as a guide not only for local and national contexts but also for today’s global context.
“We don’t often bring these concepts of the common good to bear on measuring life together globally,” says Drew. “I want to look at a number of issues involved: how social, political, and religious leaders frame an Africa-defined sense of the common good; and what forces have undermined the possibility of achieving that good (such as colonialism, Africa’s contemporary economic and political relationships with the world, civil war in Africa, global expansions of terrorism and the War on Terror, to name a few). Then I’ll look at how the U.S. has entered those contexts (through the governmental, private, and civil-society sectors, including the religious sector) and ways in which U.S. engagement with Africa has either undermined the common good or helped enhance the possibilities for that good to be achieved.” Broadly speaking, then, Drew’s book will consider how we can think about life at global levels in terms of the common good, “highlighting along the way the extent to which American Christianity has brought helpful paradigms to bear on these issues.”
While Drew works on these projects, be on the lookout for his soon-to-appear book, Black Clergy Engagement: Religious Authority and the American Public Square (Columbia University Press) and his upcoming article, requested by the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission, on U.S. Protestant denominational responses to slavery.
Urban Ministry Reconsidered: Contexts and Approaches (co-editor; Westminster John Knox Press, 2018)
Religion, Culture, and Spirituality in Africa and the African Diaspora (co-editor; Routledge, 2017)
“Puritan Chauvinism and the Roots of White Racial Nationalism in the US,” International Journal of Africana Studies, Fall 2016: 64-86
“Urban Marginality, Religious Liminality, and the Black Poor,” HTS Theological Studies, 71/3, 2015
Contesting Post Racialism: Conflicted Churches in the United States and South Africa (co-editor; University Press of Mississippi, 2015)
Churches, Blackness, and Contested Multiculturalism: Europe, North America, and Africa (co-editor; Palgrave Macmillan, 2014)
From Every Mountainside: Black Churches and Civil Rights Beyond the Southern Movement (editor; SUNY, 2013)
Freedom’s Distant Shores: American Protestants and Post-Colonial Alliances with Africa (editor; Baylor University Press, 2006)
Black Churches and Local Politics: Clergy Influence, Organizational Partnerships, and Civic Empowerment (co-editor; Rowman & Littlefield, 2005)
Long March Ahead: African American Churches and Public Policy in Post-Civil Rights America (editor; Duke, 2004)
New Day Begun: African American Churches and Civic Culture in Post-Civil Rights America (editor; Duke, 2003)