BY JOY LEIGHTON
After a national search, the Stanford School of Humanities and Sciences (H&S) has appointed Lerone A. Martin as the next faculty director for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Martin will be only the second faculty director of the institute, replacing Clayborne Carson, the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor, Emeritus, who retired in 2020 after more than 40 years in the role.
Martin will join Stanford in January 2022 as an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies and as the Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor. Martin is currently an associate professor of religion and politics in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics, as well as associate professor of African and African-American studies, and director of American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I am truly excited to have Lerone Martin lead the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute into the next phase of its future,” said Debra Satz, the Vernon R. and Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences.
“Lerone is an accomplished scholar whose research, teaching and leadership will advance the goals of the MLK Institute, helping to solidify the institute as an integral part of Stanford’s mission, both in terms of scholarship as well as student and community engagement,” Satz added. “He will play a critical role in charting the institute’s path forward. I am also grateful to Clayborne Carson for launching the institute and building it over the decades. Thanks to his efforts, we have a good foundation on which to build.”
Carson retired in 2020 but has continued to serve as acting director of the institute until H&S identified his successor. During the interim period between Carson’s retirement and Martin’s appointment, the staff of the institute led by Tenisha Armstrong and Regina Covington have ensured continuity in its operations.
“It is such an honor to succeed Dr. Clayborne Carson as the MLK Centennial Chair and Director of the MLK Research and Education Institute. I hope to build on the tremendous accomplishments of Dr. Carson and the staff,” said Martin. “I am also thrilled to be joining the religious studies faculty and the broader Stanford University community. I look forward to teaching undergraduate students, training graduate students and learning from students and my new colleagues.”
Martin’s research focuses on religious traditions in the United States and the intersection of race and politics with religion. He has been awarded several leading national faculty fellowships including the American Council of Learned Societies, The National Endowment for the Humanities and The Institute for Citizens and Scholars (formerly the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation). In addition to leading the MLK Institute, Martin will strengthen Stanford’s research and course offerings in the study of race and religion in the United States, and he will contribute significantly to H&S’s American Religions in a Global Context initiative.
“We are delighted to welcome a scholar of Lerone Martin’s caliber and standing to Stanford as a member of our faculty,” said Paul Harrison, the George Edwin Burnell Professor of Religious Studies and chair of the department. “When he adds his formidable talents to those of Kathryn Gin Lum, Alexis Wells-Oghoghomeh and others in our department, we will have an American religions program that will be one of the strongest in the country and a leader in the study of race and religion.”
Martin is the author of Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Shaping of Modern African American Religion (New York University Press, 2014). His book reveals how the phonograph was instrumental in shaping and disseminating African American religion, culture and politics in the early 20th century. In 2015, it won the Frank S. and Elizabeth D. Brewer Prize for outstanding scholarship in religious history by a first-time author from the American Society of Church History.
His second book, The Gospel of J. Edgar Hoover: The FBI and the Making of White Evangelicalism, (forthcoming from Princeton University Press), displays how the FBI’s construction of the modern security state gave rise to evangelicalism. Martin received his doctorate from Emory University in 2011. Prior to that, he earned a master’s of divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and a bachelor’s from Anderson University.
One of Martin’s most important responsibilities as the MLK Institute’s new director will be the ongoing work of editing King’s significant sermons, speeches, published writings, correspondence and unpublished papers. During Carson’s tenure, seven of the projected fourteen volumes of The Papers of Martin Luther King, Jr. have been completed.
Martin will also work with school and university leadership to create a strategic plan for the future of the institute. This will include, among other objectives, ensuring the success of its existing programs, expanding its engagement with students and the broader community, and addressing its physical location and fundraising priorities.
In addition to the university’s IDEAL initiative (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access in a Learning Environment) as well as Provost Persis Drell and Dean Satz’s approval for African and African American Studies to begin the process toward departmentalization, the appointment of Martin to lead the MLK Institute continues to fulfill the university’s commitment to changing Stanford’s culture and enhancing existing programs focused on race, equity and justice.
“I look forward to collaborating with students and faculty from across the university and the broader public to meet the goals of IDEAL and to address the broader societal questions concerning religion, race, politics and equality,” said Martin.