How an interest in evangelicalism and Black Church traditions led Nylah Fuller M.A. ’23 to Wheaton’s M.A. in History of Christianity program.
Words: Jenna Watson ’21
Nylah Fuller M.A. ’23
Nylah Fuller M.A. ’23 has lived her life in close step with the Holy Spirit’s leading. Recalling an academic and life journey that has been guided by the voice of God, she is grateful for the different spaces to which God, and her committed work, have led her.
Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Fuller spoke Spanish with her friends, attended a Black charismatic church with her family, and moved around enough to get a taste of multiple LA neighborhoods. In 10th grade, her family moved to Georgia, where she finished high school and began considering her college options. She knew she wanted to go to an elite school, but it wasn’t until a recruiter from Spelman College visited her high school that she considered what she defines as the “all-women’s elite college for the smartest of the smartest Black women.”
Fuller applied just to see if she could get in. She did. So Fuller did what she does with big decisions. “I ended up praying about all the list of acceptances I got, praying about what school I should go to for college. And the Lord himself told me I should pick Spelman. And so I went to Spelman.”
Fuller is no stranger to hearing the voice of God like this. She recalls a similar instance, four years later, when God spoke to her with clarity again. Having studied Spanish Literature & Culture at Spelman, Fuller envisioned herself teaching middle school Spanish after college. But as graduation approached and she began to apply for teaching jobs, God spoke to her again.
“God told me when I was applying for jobs that I was too burnt out,” she remembered. “And the way I was overworking myself didn’t glorify the way that he had created me to live.” After a period of prayer and reflection, Fuller realized that teaching middle school would potentially feed her tendency to overwork and would not be conducive to her new desire to implement rhythms of rest. So, she changed her plans.
As a result of this God-guided pivot, Fuller decided to re-enter academia, setting her sights on an advanced degree that would allow her to eventually teach at a college level. This path, though not in her initial playbook, also opened doors for Fuller to deepen her growing research interests, give her some well-deserved rest before entering work full-time, and create opportunities for teaching in the future. But this time around, she wasn’t going to study Spanish.
“I study whatever I’m interested in at the time,” Fuller said, expressing another guiding force in her life: her natural curiosity. “I was interested in the Spanish language when I graduated high school.” But shortly after graduating college, a different topic caught her attention. Having grown up in a Black charismatic church and learned more about white evangelical teaching through podcasts and online articles while studying in Georgia, she developed an appreciation for expressions of Christian faith across cultural differences. She’s had the chance to engage in similar ideas as a graduate resident assistant with Shalom Community, a multi-racial living and learning community on campus.
Initially, Fuller wanted to enter a Ph.D. program straight out of undergrad, but the Wheaton College Graduate School’s master’s program in the history of Christianity caught her attention because her husband consistently interacted with the works of Wheaton alumni and professors like Dr. Vince Bantu and Dr. Esau McCaulley.
Fuller was drawn to these renowned faculty, as well as to the ways the program would allow her to study topics of personal, academic, and spiritual significance from a solid methodological foundation. Although it isn’t required for all students, the program offers the opportunity to specialize in a specific historical period. Knowing she wanted to study theological thinkers from the post-emancipation period, and armed with her research questions even before she applied, this option fit well with Fuller’s academic goals.
Now, Fuller will spend the next few years receiving instruction and mentorship from some of the figures she and her husband once looked up to from afar. And her work is already garnering attention. A rare honor for a first-year master’s student, Fuller was the 2022 recipient of Wheaton’s prestigious William Hiram Bentley Award for Ministry to the African-American Community. The award also served as recognition for her outstanding research on the post-emancipation Black church, which she will turn into her master’s thesis.
After this thesis is written and her Wheaton master’s diploma is in hand, Fuller will most likely further her research through a Ph.D. program. Although she’s not precisely sure which one, given her track record of listening to God’s voice and following her interests and instincts, it’s sure to be the place she’s meant to be.