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Faculty Profiles

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Karen Johnson, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of History

On Faculty since 2013
Blanchard 207


I am a historian of race and religion in the twentieth century United States. 

My passion is to bring to light the knotty problems of religion and race in American history to help foster flourishing for all people.  During my seminary MA program, I first began to see race. There, I started studying the intersection of religion and race in U.S. History, which was both a historical interest and a personal one because of how my own personal, social and church life had been shaped by these forces I did not see. I studied the subject further in my doctoral work, and it was a gift to be able to write the history of people who tried to bring their faith to bear in positive ways on the issues of race in American history. I also learned how complicated and difficult race is. While working on my doctorate, my husband and I lived in Chicago's Austin neighborhood. There (as a white person who could no longer easily ignore race), I learned about race and religion from my neighbors there, by being white in a mostly-black neighborhood, and from the people at Rock of Our Salvation Evangelical Free Church, the interracial church where we were members.  This context shaped the writing of my first book, One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice, which was a joy to write.

The classes I teach at Wheaton often explore these issues from a variety of perspectives, and I love to learn alongside my students.  I also have the privilege of training future social studies teachers, which helps me consistently refine my own pedagogy.  I am currently editing a book called Understanding and Teaching Religion in U.S. History, with Jonathan Yeager, which will be a resource for high school and college history teachers.


My next two book projects are a general history of religion and race in U.S. history for non-academics, and a history of race, Christianity and place in Chicago and its suburbs in the post-civil rights era.


University of Illinois at Chicago
Ph. D., History, 2013

Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
M. A., Christian Thought, 2006

Carleton College
B. A., History, 2003

  • Urban History
  • Civil Rights
  • Religion and Race
  • Teaching History
  • U.S. History

Black Catholics and White Priests: The Costs of Organizing Across Parish Boundaries
American Historical Association, January 2019 (panel organizer: Black Catholics in a White Church: Negotiating Racial Exclusion in Chicago).

One in Christ: Christians and Race in the Northern Civil Rights Movement
Clara Holt Annual Lecture at Point Loma Nazarene University, November 2018

Religion and Suburban Integration
Society of the Study of U.S. Intellectual History, November, 2018

Believing Sources and Teaching Historical Thinking
Conference on Faith and History, September 2018

History, Christianity and Race
Lumen Research Institute Conference on The State of the Evangelical Mind, September 2017

Placing Vocation for Human Flourishing
Evangelical Theological Society Southeastern Meeting, March 2017

Religion in the Chicago Freedom Movement
American Historical Association, Jan 2017

Remembering Emmett Till: On the Importance of Teaching White Supremacy
Conference on Faith and History, October 2016

Roundtable Comment on Edward Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898
Conference on Faith and History (panel organizer), October 2016

The Chicago Freedom Movement: Race and Religion in an American City
Urban History Association, October 2016

Lay Women and Priests in the Second City: Going Beyond Lafarge for Catholic Interracial Activism's Origins
American Catholic Historical Association, March 2015

Religion and Suburban Integration
Urban History Association, October 2014

Integrating the Suburbs: Black Catholic Pioneers and the Debate Over Religion in the Public Square
American Historical Association (panel organizer: The Long Civil Rights Movement, Catholics, and the American Century), January 2014

Catholic and Protestant Approaches to Reconciliation: Creating Spaces of Reconciliation in a Structurally Segregated Society
National Symposium, John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, May 2013

Catholics, Race, and Civil Rights
Valparaiso University, February 2013

Catholics, Race, and Civil Rights
UIC Brown Bag Seminar, February 2013

Race, Religion and Civil Rights: Catholic Youth and the Push for Interracial Justice in 1930s Chicago
American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, November 2012

Catholic Pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement: Lay Women, Race, and Interracial Justice
Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting, April 2012

Catholic Women and the Civil Rights Movement
Women in Leadership Archives Lecture Series, Loyola University, January 2012

  • American History from 1865
  • U.S. History since 1945
  • The Civil Rights Movement
  • American Cities and Suburbs
  • Race and Ethnicity in U.S. History
  • Methods of Social Studies Instruction
  • Race, Justice, and Reconciliation in U.S. History
  • First Year Seminar: Place Matters


Johnson, Karen J. One in Christ: Chicago Catholics and the Quest for Interracial Justice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

Johnson, Karen J. and Jonathan Yeager, Understanding and Teaching Religion in U.S. History.  University of Wisconsin Press, forthcoming 2020.


Johnson, Karen J. “To Believe or Not to Believe? Using Religious Sources to Teach Historical Thinking.”  Fides et Historia, forthcoming 2019.

Johnson, Karen J. “Using Lament in the History Classroom to Engage the History of Race in America.”  Fides et Historia, forthcoming 2019.

Johnson, Karen J. “Shaping Affections: Remembering Our Racial Pasts and Institutional Lament.” Summer 2018.  Christian Scholar’s Review.

Johnson, Karen J. "Another Long Civil Rights Movement: How Catholic Interracialists Used the Resources of Their Faith to Tear Down Racial Hierarchies," Winter 2015.  American Catholic Studies.

Johnson, Karen J. “Beyond Parish Boundaries: Black Catholics and the Quest for Racial Justice,” Summer 2015, Religion & American Culture.

Johnson, Karen J.  “Healing the Mystical Body: Catholic Attempts to Overcome the Racial Divide in the Depression and World War II,” in Christians and the Color Line: Race and Religion after Divided by Faith, ed. J. Russell Hawkins and Phillip Luke Sinitiere (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).


Johnson, Karen J. “Review of Blood and Faith: Christianity in White American Nationalism, by Damon T. Berry.”  Fides et Historia, forthcoming.

Johnson, Karen J. “Review of Authentically Black and Truly Catholic: The Rise of Black Catholicism in the Great Migration, by Matthew Cressler.”  Review of Religious Research, 2018.

Johnson, Karen J. “Review of Faith in Black Power: Religion, Race and Resistance in Cairo, Illinois, by Kerry Pimblott.”  Church History, 87 (3), 2018: 956.

Johnson, Karen J. “Review of Crossing Parish Boundaries: Race, Sports, and Catholic Youth in Chicago, 1914–1954, by Timothy B. Neary.” Journal of Illinois History 18 (2018): 224–25

Johnson, Karen J. "Review of Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church & American Christianity, by Phillip Luke Sinitiere," Sociology of Religion Journal, Winter, 2017, 446-447.

Johnson, Karen J. "Review of Lincoln Rice, Healing the Racial Divide: A Catholic Racial Justice Framework Inspired by Dr. Arthur Falls," American Catholic Studies, Winter 2015.