This year, the Jeffrey C. Kasch Foundation funded crucial research for the second chapter of my dissertation, which examines how Americans turned to former South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, starting especially in the 1980s, as a moral authority and source of religious and societal renewal. Having already explored Tutu’s presence in U.S. popular media as well as his influence on U.S. government officials, this trip provided me with critical insight into Tutu’s particular impact on liberal Protestantism in the U.S., especially with regard to growing discourses of racial reconciliation and their manifestation in religious and political movements.
With the money, I took a five-day research trip to the archives of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. I was particularly intrigued to find that Tutu had visited Duke in 1985, where he spoke at the university’s famed chapel and implored congregants to become more involved in the renewed struggle against the sins of apartheid. I also discovered Tutu’s connections with famed Duke professor John Hope Franklin. The two were featured together in a PBS documentary released in 2001, titled “A Journey Towards Peace.” Filmed at the conclusion of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and President Clinton’s Initiative on Race, the film helps me narrate the ways in which Tutu challenged Americans--both black and white--to reconsider their nation’s own racial progress. (Click here to find out more about the documentary.) These and other archival findings contribute to my broader claim that Tutu, despite his absence in U.S. historiography, helped renew liberal Protestantism in the U.S. at the very moment of its famed “decline.”
I am pleased to say that this funding will continue to support my research this summer, as I travel to Johannesburg and Cape Town to look at Tutu’s personal papers. There, I’ll attempt to suss out Tutu’s extensive networks with American clergy, civil rights luminaries, and human rights activists. This trip will be critical for completing my dissertation, in addition to making my project more truly transnational. I certainly would not have made this progress without the help of the Kasch Foundation, to whom I am eternally grateful.