#MyVoiceMyBody: Minoritized Bodies in the Pulpit at Duke Chapel (2019-2020)

Applications for this project team are open and will be reviewed on a rolling basis. The deadline to apply is March 8 at 5:00 p.m.


Housed in Duke Libraries, the Duke University Chapel Recordings digital archive contains 50 years of sermons preached at the Chapel before 2001. Not only is the archive a treasure trove of recognized American preachers, it also asks contemporary questions about intersections of body, place and performance in the space of the pulpit.

A 2018 Story+ project investigated the relationship between the regular activity of Sunday morning preaching with the extraordinary public protest and social change between February 1, 1960 (the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in) and July 2, 1964 (the passage of the Civil Rights Act). Students researched the contents of the Duke Chapel Recordings and created a digital timeline and exhibition.

Building on this work, a Bass Connections project will examine sermons by people “minoritized” across spectrums of gender, nationality and sexual orientation who preached at Duke Chapel between 1972 and 2001. The project will activate interdisciplinary work on intersectional questions of authority, embodiment and identity in performance.

Project Description

This Bass Connections project team will review sermon transcriptions to confirm accuracy and consider innovative ways to map these sermons beyond the liturgical frameworks of church year, appointed readings or name recognition to discover research directions for future users. This work will expand the archive’s utility to include new approaches—for example, to the fields of History, Women’s Studies, Performance Studies, Ethnography, Sociology, Literature and Philosophy—mitigated through the history of one pulpit located in the American South.

In the spring, the project team will host a symposium to consider the limits and potentials of the archive and the related pedagogical portal for classroom use and for preachers who wish to expand their repertoire of style, content and approach to ministry.

Activating the archive for a broader academic community will advance the conversation about sermons’ potential to move local, national and international narratives toward inclusion and justice. Scholars and preachers will gain access to a vibrant online resource of curated examples that point to the demands and potentials of preaching in America.

Anticipated Outputs

Content-rich map of existing data; online exhibition of interviews and timelines; conference papers and presentations; outline for a future project connecting homiletics, humanities and/or social sciences

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this project will include 3 undergraduates and 3 graduate students. Th.D. student Peace Lee will serve as project manager.

Graduate students should have received or be working toward an M.Div. and taken at least one preaching elective other than Intro to Preaching.

Undergraduate students will ideally come from the humanities and be excited about the prospect of conducting archival research, working with primary and secondary sources, conducting interviews and drawing connections from sermons preached in the past to our present moment.

All students should be committed to sharing what they will discover in creative and engaging ways. Visual, audio and video editing skills are a plus. Students do not have to identify with a religious affiliation to participate in this project but must be respectful toward others and hold egalitarian principles.

Student team members will engage in conducting research through data analysis as well as direct contact with pioneering women preachers working in the field. They will contribute substantially to proposals for presentations at conferences about homiletics (the art of preaching or writing sermons), and develop interpretive models around questions of authority, rhetoric, interpretation and performance. They will also generate multimedia materials for the online exhibition of findings. 

Students will interact with the archival material itself as well as some of the thought leaders who created the original data. They will also learn how to work within the constraints of a current project while generating new or additional approaches that could frame subsequent research. 

Graduate students will have additional opportunities to work with undergraduates in framing the research, engaging best practices, resisting initial assumptions and marshaling enthusiasm to realize strategies for verification and documentation. Given the single location of the archive, graduate students will begin to frame questions about preaching’s transformation over time, the particular impact of Duke Chapel on sermon construction and the value of ethnography for homiletic practice.

Selected students will have the opportunity to travel to the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship (date TBD), the Academy of Homiletics (November 2019) and/or to the Festival of Homiletics (May 2020).

A related Story+ project will take place in Summer 2019. Students accepted onto the Story+ project team will begin research in Summer 2019 and will be given the opportunity to continue through the year-long Bass Connections project. Ideally, students will be able to participate in both project components, but this is not required. Students interested in these related opportunities must complete applications for both the 2019-20 Bass Connections project team and the Summer 2019 Story+ project team.


Fall 2019 – Spring 2020

  • Fall 2019: Determine tasks based on what emerges from summer; continue generative mapping and considerations for further research
  • Spring 2020: Continue transcript and metadata confirmation; generate videos of key interviewees and their relationship to preaching today; conduct summary meeting to map detailed plans; participate in panel on projects for symposia; generate proposals for Academy of Homiletics gathering at Princeton Seminary; design symposia for April 2021


Independent study credit available for fall and spring semesters

To Apply

Students can apply using our online application. Applications are due by March 8 at 5:00 p.m.

See related Story+ summer project, #MyVoiceMyBody: Minoritized Bodies in the Pulpit at Duke Chapel (2019).

See earlier related Story+ summer project, Preaching and Protest: Sermons from Duke Chapel during the Civil Rights Era (2018).


Image: Desmond Tutu at Duke Chapel, courtesy of Duke University Archives

Desmond Tutu at Duke Chapel, courtesy of Duke University Archives.

Team Leaders

  • Peace Lee, Divinity School-Th.D. Student
  • Jerusha Neal, Divinity School
  • Luke Powery, Divinity School

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Thomas F. DeFrantz, Arts & Sciences-African and African American Studies
  • Olie Gnagno, Womens Center
  • Marcia Rego, Arts & Sciences
  • James (Bradley) Rogers, Arts & Sciences-Theater Studies