Josef Sorett

Assistant Professor, Department of Religion &
Institute for Research in African-American Studies
Columbia University

Josef Sorett is a member of the faculty at Columbia University, where he is an Assistant Professor of Religion and African-American Studies and Associate Director of the Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (IRCPL). Josef is also the founding director of the Center on African American Religion, Sexual Politics and Social Justice (CARSS), which is located within Columbia’s Institute for Research in African-American Studies (IRAAS).

As an interdisciplinary scholar of religion and race in the Americas, Josef employs primarily historical and literary approaches to the study of religion in black communities and cultures in the United States. He has a special interest in how ideas about religion inform broader conversations about culture and society, and how such ideas emerge and take shape in (discursive and physical) spaces typically assumed to be outside the provenance of “religion.” His current research addresses two central themes: 1) how ideas about religion have animated histories of African American literature, arts and popular culture, and 2) the relationship between the cultural politics of religious institutions (especially black churches) and American public life.

Josef’s research has been supported with grants from the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion, and the Fund for Theological Education (now the Forum for Theological Exploration). He has published essays and reviews in Culture and ReligionCallaloo, the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, and PNEUMA: Journal of the Society for Pentecostal Studies. His current book project, Spirit in the Dark: A Religious History of Racial Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, forthcoming 2015) illumines how religion has figured in debates about black art and culture. He is also editing an anthology that is tentatively titled, The Sexual Politics of Black Churches. Josef received his Ph.D. in African American Studies from Harvard University; and he holds a B.S. from Oral Roberts University, and an M.Div. from Boston University.

Josef’s writing and commentary have appeared in a range of popular media outlets, including ABC News, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, as well as on the BBC and NPR. He is also a member of American Academy of Religion’s Committee for the Public Understanding of Religion.


Obery Hendricks

Visiting Scholar
Institute for Research in African-American Studies &
Department of Religion
Columbia University

Dr. Obery Hendricks has been called one of the most provocative and innovative commentators on the intersection of religion, politics and social policy in America today. A widely sought lecturer and media spokesperson, Dr. Hendricks’ media appearances include C-SPAN, PBS, National Public Radio, al-Jazeera Television, NHK Japan Television, Air-America, Radio One, Fox News, the Bloomberg Network, among others. He is a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Democratic National Committee, a member of the National Religious Leaders Advisory Committee of the Barack Obama presidential campaign, an Affiliated Scholar at the Center for American Progress (a Washington, DC think-tank) and a featured writer for and He is also an editorial advisor to the award-winning Tikkun magazine, a contributing editor to The Encyclopedia of Politics and Religion, and a principal commentator in the The Oxford Annotated Bible.

“Essential reading for Americans” is what The Washington Post called Dr. Hendricks’ most recent book, The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted. Social critic Michael Eric Dyson describes it as “an instant classic” that “immediately thrusts Dr. Hendricks into the front ranks of American religious thinkers.” The Politics of Jesus was the featured subject of the C-SPAN program “Class, Politics and Christianity.” The Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation calls Hendricks’ postmodern “guerrilla” approach to biblical discourse “the boldest post-colonial writing ever seen in Western biblical studies.” A former Wall Street investment executive and past president of Payne Theological Seminary, the oldest African American theological seminary in the United States, Dr. Hendricks is currently Professor of Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary. He holds the Master of Divinity with academic honors from Princeton Theological Seminary, and both the M.A. and Ph.D. in Religions of Late Antiquity from Princeton University.


Previous Contributors

Laura McTighe
PhD Student
Department of Religion
Columbia University

Laura McTighe is a Graduate Fellow for the Religions of Harlem Project, where she is responsible for maintaining the Religions of Harlem website and managing the expansion of the digital archive of Harlem’s religious worlds past and present. She will also be a Teaching Fellow for the Religions of Harlem course at Columbia University in the Spring 2013.

Laura entered the doctoral program in North American Religions at Columbia University in 2011 after more than fifteen years of direct engagement with people in our country’s prisons and jails and in the communities struggling to rebuild amidst perpetual dislocation. Her research centers on the ethnographic study of religion and migration in this prison-created diaspora. Through a praxis of navigating multiple worlds, she holds the complicated position of being at once a conduit for the everyday stories of human life and their interlocutor, employing a life history approach to support formerly incarcerated people in giving voice to their own narratives of resistance and resilience amidst the carceral assemblage. Laura received her MTS in Islamic Studies from Harvard Divinity School, where she studied as a Presidential Scholar, and her BA, magna cum laude, in Religion from Haverford College. Currently, she serves on the boards of Women With A Vision in New Orleans, Men & Women In Prison Ministries in Chicago and Reconstruction Inc. in Philadelphia.


Joseph Blankholm
PhD Candidate
Department of Religion
Columbia University

Joseph Blankholm, along with Frank Shepard, designed and maintained the Religions of Harlem website from 2010-2012. He was a Graduate Fellow for the Religions of Harlem Project and edited the Religions of Harlem blog. In the past, Joseph was a Teaching Fellow for the Religions of Harlem course at Columbia University, where he is also a PhD candidate in the department of Religion. Joseph’s dissertation research investigates nonbelievers in the contemporary United States, with an emphasis on the Northest and Washington D.C. He holds a Master’s degree in Religion from Columbia University, a Master’s degree in Cultural Anthropology from the University of California-Irvine, and a Bachelor’s degree in Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature from the University of Minnesota. Joseph is also one of the founding editors of the web magazine Possible Futures.

Josslyn Luckett
MDiv Student
Harvard Divinity School

Josslyn Luckett was a 2011-2012 Graduate Fellow and essayist for the Religions of Harlem Project. The wandering seminarian in the mix, she is a writer from Los Angeles, currently completing her MDiv at Harvard Divinity School. Before leaving Los Angeles she produced a monthly sacred music series called “Come Sunday: Jazz on the Sacred Side.” She blogs at Come Sunday: Jazz, Trouble, Hallelujah.

Natalie Shibley
Columbia University

Natalie Shibley was a 2011-2012 Undergraduate Fellow and essayist for the Religions of Harlem Project, as well as a Columbia University senior, double majoring in African American Studies and History. She serves on the Columbia Undergraduate History Council and has been a Department of History Summer Research Fellow. Natalie has previously worked for the U.S. Department of the Interior and been an intern for the Apollo Theater.

Lindsay White
Columbia University

Lindsay White was a 2011-2012 Undergraduate Fellow and essayist for the Religions of Harlem Project. She is a fourth year undergraduate student from Buffalo, NY studying at Columbia College with a major in Religion and a concentration in Psychology. When not in class, she serves as a peer facilitor with the campus group ROOTEd (Respecting Ourselves and Others Through Education) and is also a member of SPEaK (Students Promoting Empowerment and Knowledge).

Adam Deutsch
Columbia University

Adam Deutsch was a 2011-2012 Undergraduate Fellow and essayist for the Religions of Harlem Project. A third-year undergraduate student at Columbia University, Adam pursues a dual-degree with majors in both Philosophy and Religion. Specifically, Adam gravitates toward the study of ethics in Philosophy and of ritual in Religion. By pursuing these two fields, he hopes to arrive at some understanding of lived philosophy, of lived ethics, of politics. This interest in human organization along the lines of ‘ideas’ moved him to become an organizer for President Obama’s re-election campaign, to found Amnesty International’s grassroots organization on Columbia’s campus, to work for the rights of employees during the summers, and–of course–to participate in this fellowship.