2017 Conrad Wright Lecture

Dr. Emily Suzanne Clark
Dr. Emily Suzanne Clark


Dr. Emily Clark Friday, June 23, 1:30 – 2:45 pm The Unitarian Universalist History and Heritage Society invites you to join us at General Assembly in New Orleans for the Conrad Wright Lecture. This year’s lecturer is Dr. Emily Suzanne Clark, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, Associate Editor for the Journal of Southern Religion, and author of the new book A Luminous Brotherhood: Afro-Creole Spiritualism in Nineteenth-Century New Orleans from University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

In this lecture, Dr. Clark introduces the practice of Spiritualism among a small community of Afro- Creole men in nineteenth-century New Orleans. From 1858 until 1877 a wise world of spirits guided these men as they sought to make New Orleans, the South, the nation, and the world a more just and moral place. The roster of spirit guides included figures like Abraham Lincoln, Jesus, Montesquieu, Saint Vincent de Paul, John Brown, and more, and their messages instructed the Spiritualists on issues of politics, society, religious institutions, and charity.

In the wake of slavery and the continued strength of white supremacy, the spirits advised the Spiritualists in ways practical and abstract on how to rebuild the country with justice as its core. The spirits identified the worth of a person with his or her spirit and not the raced body. The spirits scolded those who treated women with contempt and disregard. The spirits criticized those who fought for slavery, and the spirits of former slaves and slave owners lamented America’s embrace of the institution. The spirits decried forms of religious authority that could be coopted for selfish and materialistic ways. Instead the spirits advocated charity, racial equality, respect for all, and the establishment of harmony. This lecture explores how the identities of the spirits communicating, the content of their messages, and the context surrounding the Spiritualists’ practice all reinforced the spirits’ calls for social justice.

The first annual Conrad Wright lecture was given in 2008 by J.D. Bowers on Joseph Priestley and English Unitarianism in America. Past lecturers have included Charles Capper, Kristin Gwinn-Becker, Christopher Cameron, Megan Marshall, and James Ford. Dr. Nicole Kirk and the Rev. Mark Harris will introduce Dr. Clark and Unitarian Universalist connections to spiritualism. Dr. Clark will be at the UUA bookstore for a book signing following the lecture.