A historian of religion in the twentieth century, Dr. Lerone A. Martin is the faculty director for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University, where he is also an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies. His books and scholarship provide critical context for the forces of religion, politics, and race that have shaped the contemporary American political and social landscape.
His appointment to the position of Martin Luther King, Jr. Centennial Professor was the result of a national search to succeed the storied King Institute’s founding director after more than 40 years in the role, making Martin only the second faculty director. One of his most important responsibilities as the MLK Institute’s director is the ongoing work of editing King’s significant sermons, speeches, published writings, correspondence and unpublished papers. In June of 2023, under Martin’s leadership, the Institute received the largest gift in its history, which will support the digitization of Dr. King’s writings, and offering those through a new, searchable online database that will be available to the public and to scholars worldwide. “I think of Martin Luther King Jr. as a conversation partner in our studies of history and in helping us think about the future,” Martin said.
Martin’s first book, the award-winning Preaching on Wax: The Phonograph and the Making of Modern African American Religion, tracks the role of the phonograph in the shaping of African American religion, culture, and politics during the first half of the twentieth century. The book was the 2015 recipient of the prestigious 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. A “tight, well-conceived narrative,” Preaching on Wax “demonstrates persuasively how religious, commercial, and technological forces came together in the making of modern African American Christianity. Most important, perhaps, its crisp, accessible prose makes it a pleasure to read” (Journal of American History).
Having witnessed first-hand the Bureau’s engagement with faith communities during the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Missouri, Martin was inspired to write The Gospel of J. Edgar Hoover: How the FBI Aided and Abetted the Rise of White Christian Nationalism, the shocking untold story of of the FBI partnered with white evangelicals to champion a vision of America as a white Christian nation. Scholars have long noted how Hoover’s FBI surveilled and antagonized clergy and faith communities, but the Bureau’s embrace and endorsement of faith are less well known. Drawing on thousands of declassified FBI documents and interviews with retired special agents, Martin explains why white evangelicals rose in the halls of power, and shines a light on how the religious movement became a political force that has shaped our current politics. The Gospel is “a fresh and invigorating look at the interplay between faith, politics, and American law enforcement” (Publishers Weekly). The book has garnered praise from numerous national and international publications including The Nation, Foreign Affairs, The Guardian, Publisher’s Weekly, and History Today.
In support of his research, Martin has received a number of nationally recognized fellowships and grants, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, The American Council of Learned Societies, The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, the Louisville Institute for the Study of American Religion, the Teagle Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust (a $187,000 grant for the study of Harnessing Religious Values to Increase Public Virtue). Most recently he was named Co-Director of “The Crossroads Project” to advance public understanding of the history, politics, and cultures of African American religions, as part of a million dollar grant from the Henry Luce Foundation.
Martin has also been recognized for his teaching, receiving grants and fellowships from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion and Washington University College of Arts and Sciences. The Teagle Foundation recognized him with a grant to implement “Citizenship and Freedom: From Plato to Maya,” an intensive three-week summer humanities seminar and school-year civic engagement program for promising, underserved high school students from the St. Louis region enrolled in the university’s College Prep Program. Martin has served as a research consultant for continuing education and recidivism at New York’s Sing Sing State Prison, as well as an instructor at Georgia’s Metro State Prison. He has been an instructor at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center with the WashU Prison Education Program.
Martin‘s lectures on the intersection of religion and politics in American life have been featured at national conferences, faith communities, as well as leading universities including Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth, Stanford, and Georgetown. He was previously the Director of American Culture Studies, Associate Professor of Religion and Politics in the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics and Associate Professor of African & African American Studies at Washington University in Saint Louis. His commentary and writing have been featured on The NBC Today Show, The History Channel, PBS, CSPAN, Newsy, NBCLX, as well as in The New York Times, Boston Globe, CNN.com, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He currently serves as Senior Editor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Papers Project, and advisor on the upcoming PBS documentary series The History of Gospel Music & Preaching, and is currently working on a nonfiction book and an adapted graphic novel about the adolescence and calling of Martin Luther King, Jr., both to be published by HarperCollins.
Martin earned his B.A. from Anderson University and his Master of Divinity Degree from Princeton Theological Seminary before completing his Ph.D. at Emory University in 2011.
For more information on Dr. Lerone Martin, please visit him at kinginstitute.stanford.edu/people/dr-lerone-martin, Twitter, or Instagram.Download Dr. Lerone A. Martin's press kit here.