Knoxville native on campus Thursday

Sandra ClarkDowntown

Who remembers Todne Thomas? She’s dropping by this week to give the annual Distinguished Lecture in Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee.

Her topic: “A Black Church Burned: Sanctuary, loss and place-making in Knoxville TN.” It is Thursday, Feb. 16, 5:30 p.m., Lindsay Young Auditorium, Hodges Library, Room 101. Free and open to the public. Webcast at

Todne Thomas PhD is a socio-cultural anthropologist and associate professor of African American Religious Studies at Harvard Divinity School.

Dr. Thomas, on the Harvard Divinity School blog Humans of HDS says: I’m originally from Knoxville, Tennessee. A lot of people tend to be surprised that I’m from the South. It’s home, it’s been my home, my ancestors’ home. It’s a place that has fundamentally imprinted who I am in a profound way. It’s a part of me, something I carry with me. It’s the culture, it’s the food, it’s the bourbon, it’s the expressions. …

Quick quotes:

I feel a solidarity with African American Christianity – a solidarity that is important to me as someone who grew up in a black church and who received the support and love of black church goers.

Dr. Thomas did her undergraduate work at Cornell, graduate training at the University of Virginia, and field work in Atlanta with an Afro-Caribbean and African American evangelical group. She asks:

How do people understand their relationship to one another as members of the body of Christ or members of a church family? How does that motivate people to treat each other? What are the implications of that in worship spaces outside? How do they mobilize these ideas of family to make community and also to narrate the religious landscape?

She tells students:

There are going to be times where you feel tapped out and burned out. Acknowledge that and be honest about it.

  • (Make) a strategic list of books that will motivate and inspire you and show you what your area of interest looks like applied.
  • Develop a network of mentors … both inside and outside of your institution.
  • Develop your peer network. They are vital relationships. Invest in them.
  • Commit to having a life. Everything doesn’t always have to feed your work. Have a space that’s yours.

Dr. Thomas says spending time with her son brings her joy; also, “My mom is one of the funniest people I know, so talking with her is a lot of fun.” And reading for leisure brings joy.

Letting Go

… I never imagined myself where I am today. I learned to let go of thinking that there was a certain way things needed to happen. I let go of a rigid way of holding onto things. Life doesn’t unfold like you expect. You have to deal with emergent changes, and then you have to check in with yourself. You can’t live someone else’s script for your life. It’s special to realize your own autonomy. You grow in ways you don’t expect, you get insights and access to wisdom.

I hope UT students (and faculty) go to hear this remarkable daughter of Knoxville. And if you remember her from church or school, show up. It’s free and it’s Thursday.

Sandra Clark is editor/CEO of Knox TN Today Inc.

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