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Healing 2020 Call for Proposals

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Chris Wiger

The Spirituals Project National Conference

Announcement  •
The Spirituals Project: Healing 2020

We invite professionals and laypersons of all backgrounds to join us for this conference to explore the spirituals and their multi-layered cultural legacy through the lens of this year’s theme: healing

Submission Deadline: January 6, 2020, 5 p.m. MST  

Submit a Proposal

For more information go to the Spirituals Project Page or contact the Spirituals Project at

The Spirituals Project is a secular, community-engaged program of the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music. The Project seeks to preserve and revitalize the artistic, educational and social justice teachings of “spirituals,” songs that were created and first sung by enslaved Africans in America in the 18th and 19th centuries. We are a community outreach and artistic program centered around a core 70-member multi-ethnic, multi-generational community choir. In addition to a core group of singers from widely diverse segments of the Denver metropolitan community, the choir includes University of Denver students, as well as staff and faculty members.

Healing is a counterpoint to violence, rupture and stress — both sustained and sudden. In their earliest iterations, the spirituals responded to physical, spiritual and cultural violence. And they have continued to do so. Healing (or a lack thereof) is thus a theme that emerges in many ways throughout the spirituals’ history and their contemporary practice. What did healing mean historically? What does it mean today? What is or was in need of healing? How do the spirituals and related traditions engage with healing? Is healing a useful concept today? What does the framework of healing invite us to examine more deeply? What does it cause us to ignore?

Research, Education, Activism, and Performance are at the center of The Spirituals Project’s mission. Thus, we seek participants of diverse professions and perspectives — from music, education, literature, history, religion, psychology, culture, social justice and more — who approach this healing through the lens of research, education, activism and/or performance. We hope that you will join us as we come together to share and learn from our diverse knowledge and experiences — from the artistic to the activist to the academic.

Our featured speakers this year include the Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr., Dr. Eileen Guenther and the Rev. Dr. James Peters.

We welcome proposals for 60-minute or 90-minute presentations, workshops, and roundtable discussions. Proposals should be 250 words or less. In addition to your 250-word proposal, please include the desired format (e.g., workshop, roundtable discussion), the desired time (60 or 90 minutes), as well as all presenters’/participants’ names, contact information, roles (e.g., roundtable moderator, workshop leader) and bios.  

More about the conference. Our featured speakers include:

The Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr. is The Harry Emerson Fosdick Distinguished Professor at Union Theological Seminary, Senior Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church, President of the Healing of the Nations Foundation and Chairman of the Drum Major Institute in New York City. An ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches, Dr. Forbes was the first African-American to serve as minister of Riverside Church, an interdenominational, interracial and international 2,400-member church built by John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in 1927.

A pastor, educator, administrator, community activist and interfaith leader, Dr. Forbes was named one of the 12 “most effective preachers” in the English-speaking world by Newsweek and was twice designated as one of America’s greatest Black preachers by Ebony magazine.

Dr. Forbes earned a D.Min. from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School; an M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary; and a BS (chemistry) from Howard University. He also earned his clinical pastoral education certificate from the Medical College of Virginia. He holds 14 honorary doctorates from numerous institutions, including Princeton, DePauw, Colgate, Fairleigh Dickenson, Lehigh and the University of Richmond. His awards include the Union Theology Seminary’s Unitas Distinguished Alumnus Award, the Teacher’s College of Columbia University’s Distinguished Service Medal and Howard University’s Distinguished Service Award in Ministry.

Two of Dr. Forbes’ songs have been published in the Silver Burdett Songbooks for schools: “We Shall Overcome” and “Our Families Together.” Dr. Forbes has performed the narration for several large musical productions, including Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” with the Riverside choir. Born in 1935 in Burgaw, North Carolina, Dr. Forbes is married to Bettye Franks Forbes, formerly of San Antonio, TX. They are the proud parents of one son, James A. Forbes, III.  

Dr. Eileen Guenther is Lecturer in Organ at The George Washington University and Professor of Church Music at Wesley Theological Seminary, where she teaches music and worship courses and serves as Director of Chapel Music. Her role as teacher extends to churches and musical and denominational organizations, for whom she leads workshops on music and social justice, global music, Spirituals and clergy-music relations. Her book, Rivals or a Team: Clergy-Musician Relationships in the 21st Century (MorningStar Music Publishers, 2012) has been widely acclaimed and has received a great deal of media attention. Interviews with Eileen on this book have been published in a variety of venues, from blogs and denominational newsletters to The Huffington Post and The Christian Century. Her second book, In Their Own Words: Slave Life and Power of Spirituals (MorningStar Music Publishers, 2016) has also been extremely well received and is in its fourth printing. The 70 presentations she has made on In Their Own Words have taken her from Atlanta to Ashland, Oregon.

Dr. Guenther served for six years as National President of the American Guild of Organists, the third woman to lead this organization since its founding in 1896. As an organ recitalist Dr. Guenther has performed over 250 recitals in the U.S. as well as Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. She is interviewed on the PBS documentary on Christmas Carols with Amy Grant, and in the EMMY-Award winning film Backs Against the Wall: The Howard Thurman Story, broadcast nationally beginning in February 2019. Her performances are heard throughout the soundtrack.

The Rev. Dr. James Peters has touched countless lives in a ministry that combines faith with work for social justice. The courage and work of Dr. Peters helped make fairness and equal rights part of shared values in Denver where he has lived for decades. A native of Connecticut, Rev. Peters was a founding member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in the 1950s and 1960s and an associate of Martin Luther King, Jr. In Denver, Rev. Peters served as pastor of New Hope Baptist church for 28 years before retirement in 2007. He also served for many years as a member of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission.