Matthew Cressler

Assistant Professor

Address: 4C Glebe Street, Room 105
Office Hours: Virtually by appointment only
Phone: 843.953.1026
Personal Website: matthewjcressler@com

Matthew Cressler was born in Connecticut, grew up in Alabama, went to school in New York, Boston, and Chicago, and considers himself an East-Coast itinerant. He teaches courses on African American religion; Black nationalism; religion, race, and politics; religion in America; and theory and method in the study of religion.

In his own words

My teaching and research interests revolve around the inseparability of religion, race, and politics in the United States. In other words, I tend to teach and write about all the things you’re not supposed to talk about at the dinner table. As a result, I strive to cultivate classrooms where we all become comfortable being a bit uncomfortable. My courses invite open conversations around some of the big questions of our present moment. What is “America” and what does it mean to be an “American”? Does religion oppress people or is it an instrument of liberation? What is “religion”? What is “race”? And where do they come from? My courses tend to blend a variety of different types of activities and readings in order to facilitate active engagement in learning, ranging from close reading of primary sources to staging debates between historical figures such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, from discussing the intricacies of Beyoncé’s “Formation” to taking a field trip to analyze the “sacred stuff” that populates St. Patrick’s church around the corner from campus.

I aim to address these questions in my research as well. My first book, Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration (NYU Press, 2017), tells the story of conversion and revolution among Black Catholics in twentieth-century Chicago. The Great Migration brought many Black migrants face-to-face with white missionaries for the first time and led tens of thousands of men, women, and children to become Catholic. But what it meant to be Black and Catholic changed dramatically in the late 1960s when a growing group of activists, inspired by Black Power and Vatican II, brought to life a distinctively Black way of being Catholic. This move was neither inevitable nor uncontroversial and my book shows how Black Catholic activists made Black Catholicism as we know it today and remade American Catholicism in the process. If my first book explores the entanglement of religious and racial identities among Black Catholics, my current research explores that same entanglement among white Catholics. To get a taste of this new direction, check out a piece I wrote for Slate called “What White Catholics Owe Black Americans.”

Matthew is an Affiliate Faculty Member in African American Studies.


Ph.D. Religious Studies, Northwestern University

M.T.S. Religions of the Americas, Harvard Divinity School

B.A. History and Theology, St. Bonaventure University

Research Interests

  • Religion in America
  • African American Religions
  • Religion, Race, and Politics
  • Nationalism and Religion
  • Catholicism in the United States
  • Theory in the Study of Religion

Courses Taught


  • Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration (NYU Press, 2017).
  • Co-authored, “Bulletproof Love: Luke Cage (2016) and Religion,” Journal for Religion, Film, and Media, Vol. 3 No. 1 (2017).
  • Editor, “Forum: Race, White Supremacy, and the Making of American Catholicism,” American Catholic Studies, Vol. 127 No. 3 (Fall 2016): 1-33.
  • “Black Power, Vatican II, and the Emergence of Black Catholic Liturgies,” U.S. Catholic Historian, Vol. 32 No. 4 (Fall 2014).
  • “Black Catholic Conversion and the Burden of Black Religion,” Journal of Africana Religions, Vol. 2 No. 2 (2014): 280-287.
  • “Ground Zero and the ‘S-word,’” Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Vol. 39 Nos. 1&2 (Winter/Spring 2011): 11-14.