Dr. Thomas is an Associate Professor of African American Religious Studies at Harvard Divinity School. On June 22, 2015, the College-Hill Seventh-Day Adventist Church (CHSDAC), a predominately African American church in Knoxville, Tennessee, was burned. Bales of hay were left in front of the church and set ablaze. The church building sustained minor damages. A side door and surrounding wing of the church sustained fire and smoke damage. The church van was also ignited, its chassis and tires significantly damaged by fire making it inoperable. The local police classified the burning as an act of vandalism. No suspect was ever apprehended.
Dr. Thomas' talk will focus on her current ethnographic inquiry into this local arson and its aftermath, and is guided by a matrifocal methodology—an autoethnographic ethics that explores and informs her relationship to the research as a daughter, black feminist anthropologist, a native of Knoxville, Tennessee, and the gendered and institutional dynamics of her own relationship to place and black socio-religious life. She also investigates the complexities of studying black subjectivity, anti-black racism, and religious violence in Appalachia—a region that is not associated with a large African American population, the plantation complex, or the post-industrial city.
In addition to troubling racial, regional, and spatial narratives of exceptionalism that might obviate the quotidian character of anti-black religious violence in Knoxville, Dr. Thomas applies a matrifocal methodology to explore the gendered implications of black church arson (the burned blackmotherchurch) and its attempt to circumscribe black church therapeutic potentialities that are highly mediated by black women’s homosociality.