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Kai Parker

Assistant Professor of African American Religious History


  • Ph.D., History, University of Chicago
  • M.A., History, University of Chicago
  • A.B., History and Africana Studies, Bowdoin College

Research Interests

A historian of African American religion, Kai Parker examines how messianic and apocalyptic strains of black faith illuminate the tensions between conceptions of redemption and freedom in African American history. Professor Parker studies the religious history of urban inequality, gospel music, internationalist and diasporic missiology, Ethiopianism, the intersection of biblical prophetic theology and modern social science in black religious thought, reparations, the influence of rural and apocalyptic worldviews on the formation of urban religious ways of being, and the theological valences of criminal justice reform and prison abolitionism. His research combines the archival methods of history with conceptual insights drawn from theology as well as black studies’ engagements with phenomenology.

Professor Parker’s book project, “Faith without Hope: Black Protestants, Chicago, and the Critique of Progress, 1914-1968,” analyzes the ways in which black Protestants in Chicago expressed faith in spiritual redemption through their theological engagements with municipal and global antiblackness: residential segregation, slum clearance and urban renewal policies, socioeconomic oppression, the criminal justice system, colonialism, and world war. Chicago’s black Protestants indicated that the persistence of racial inequality and the emergence of the urban crisis revealed the limitations of the tendency to conceptualize the black freedom struggle as a movement from slavery to freedom analogous to the biblical Exodus. Their critique came to life in worship services, gospel music, visual art, popular literature, non-normative conceptions of family and sexuality, foreign mission organizing, and political protest. The project elucidates the history of this religious culture from its rise at the outset of the Great Migration in the 1910s to its tumultuous interaction with the Martin Luther King, Jr.-led Chicago Freedom Movement in the mid-1960s. 


  • Religion and the Black Freedom Struggle
  • Black Religion and the Criminal Justice System
  • Religion, Race, and Difference in America 
  • Historiography Seminar in U.S. Religions