Terrence L. Johnson
Associate Professor of Religion
Terrence L. Johnson, Associate Professor of Religion, joined Haverford in 2007. A graduate of Morehouse College, he received his M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School and his Ph.D. from Brown University. He is a recipient of the Christian R. and Mary F. Lindback Career Enhancement Minority Junior Faculty Grant, The Woodrow Wilson Foundation's Charlotte Newcombe Dissertation Fellowship and the Doctoral Fellowship from The Fund for Theological Education. His research interests include African American religions, ethics, and political theory .
B.A., Morehouse College
M.Div., Harvard Divinity School
Ph.D., Brown University
My research examines the philosophical constructions of the self as it relates to religion, liberation thought, ethics and democracy in the modern West. I am particularly interested in the relationship between religion and race in the construction of political discourse in late nineteenth and twentieth century U.S. writings.
In my first book, Tragic Soul-Life: W.E.B. Du Bois and the Moral Crisis Facing American Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2012), I retrieve Du Bois’s category of tragic soul-life to expand contemporary debates on the role of religion in public life.
Recent debates on religion and politics grapple with concerns related but not limited to safeguarding the liberties of religious persons in public debates, examining the appropriate role (if any) of religious arguments in a constitutional democracy and investigating the degree to which religion serves as a conversation-stopper in public deliberations.
Du Bois’s moral imagination, which I define and delineate based on the category of tragic soul-life, allows me to extend our debates on religion and politics. For instance, when we distinguish religious beliefs from our political commitments, I believe we create artificial disjunctions that prevent us from attending to the messy relationship between religion and politics in the formation of race and the problem of blackness.
For Du Bois, religion and politics often overlapped within our constitutional democracy to justify slavery and segregation. The collision between religion and politics created the fragments from which emerged a firm but shifting moral disdain for blackness within the nation’s collective imagination. Hence, our moral imaginations, which influence our political behavior and habits regardless of our religious or anti-religious positions, often justified antiblack racism based on our belief in the “sin” or “problem” of blackness.
My next book-length project, The Emperor in the Mirror, builds on my present work by extending my focus from the overlap between religion and politics in American public life to an examination of the American jeremiad in forming and fashioning U.S. foreign policy and black social protest movements. As I plan to show, the American jeremiad links American religious and political rhetoric to an inescapable history of manifest destiny and empire.