Randal Maurice Jelks is an awarding winning Professor of American Studies and African and African American Studies. Professor Jelks also holds courtesy appointments in History, Religious Studies, and is the co-Editor of the journal American Studies. In addition he is an ordained Presbyterian clergy (PCUSA). Jelks is a graduate of the University of Michigan (BA in History), McCormick Theological Seminary (Masters of Divinity) and Michigan State University (Ph.D. in Comparative Black Histories) having studied under Distinguished Professor Darlene Clark Hine. His research interests are in the areas of American Religious histories, African Diaspora Religions, and Religions and American Social Movements. He is the author of the two award winning books African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights Struggle in Grand Rapids (The University of Illinois Press, 2006), which won the 2006 State History Award, University and Commercial Press, Historical Society of Michigan and Benjamin Elijah Mays, Schoolmaster of the Movement: A Biography (University of North Carolina Press 2012), winner of the 2013 Lillian Smith Book Award and the 2013 Literary Award, Black Caucus of the American Library Association. Jelks has held a Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies at Masaryk University, Brno Czech Republic (2015), has been a Visiting Lecturer at University of Regensburg (2014), Regensburg, Bavaria, Germany and has been a visiting lecturer at the University of Ghana, Institute for African Studies (2001 and 2007). He is currently writing two new books “I am free to be what I want to be”: Faith and Struggle in the Lives of Four African Americans and My Friends Call Me Benny: The Benjamin Mays Story for Young Readers, as well as serving as an executive producer for a two-part biographical documentary I, Too, Sing America: Langston Hughes Unfurled in conjunction with the Dream Documentary Collective and the Lawrence Arts Center.
Philosophically I approach teaching American Studies and African and African American Studies from the perspective that the classroom or seminar is a discursive space to foster new insights, wise practices, and democratic social engagement. My scholarly research on American religion, Religion in Africa’s Diasporas as well as Social Movements histories informs my instruction by providing me with new materials, methodological queries, and insights. Sharing my research with students on America’s histories and cultural confluences leads me to my ultimate objective, which is to assist students in wise deliberations regarding our respective humanity as individuals and the multiple environmental factors that structure our human planetary existence.
My first task as a teacher is to engage students’ minds by building a classroom setting that fosters a discursive community where ideas are respectfully exchanged, content knowledge enhanced, and skills of critical analysis are honed. Regularly I begin all classes by affirming students’ intellects and challenging them to bring their focused minds and articulate voices into the classroom. I attempt to accomplish these things through organized syllabi, challenging readings, philosophical queries, engaged lectures and thoughtful assignments in and outside of the class or seminar.
- American Religion
- American Social Movements, Civil Rights
- African Studies
- African American Studies
- Religions in the African Diaspora
My Ph.D. training was in Comparative history Black Histories with subfields in American Religious History and Continental Philosophy. The major focus of my research is American religion in terms of its cultural usage in American politics and social movements. As a historian I explore how ideas surrounding race, gender, and social class are influenced by religious faith and belief in the United States, Caribbean, and Africa. I am especially interested in how these ideas affect African Americans as they attempt to escape the restrictive boundaries of race
- African American Religion
- American Religion
- American Social Movements
- Civil Rights Movement
- Religions in the Africa Diaspora